How Do You Exact Revenge in a Business Relationship?

Revenge is most often considered an overt act: an obvious action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone in response to an injury or wrong suffered at their hands. A kind of vengeance, retribution, or reprisal. But we notice that there are far more subtle and understated forms of revenge that exist in business relationships.

An example of this is when someone is not included in a group’s strategic decisions. The person anticipated the group would include them.They firmly believe they should have a voice.They should have a vote. Then they discover that the decision was made without them, and they feel isolated and disregarded.

Anger and upset emerge.Their expectation is they should be involved.They consider themselves vital to the group. The person feels slighted, but they do not say anything. It is an expectation unfulfilled.

Unfulfilled expectations invariably leads to an upset. When you’re upset, you become angry, resentful, and indignant. When someone fails to fulfill an expectation — something that you deem the “right” thing to do — you unconsciously settle on a punitive verdict. The verdict is ultimately based on your interpretation that he or she has wronged you in some way. If they are wrong, invariably, it makes you right.

Your view of the other person continues to poison. It begins to generate thoughts about “getting back” at this person. A plan for revenge of some type begins to emerge.

How do you respond?

Now, we each have our own strategy and tactics for revenge. They range from disconnecting, detaching and disengaging to more overt activities, such as gossip, direct swipes in conversations, and downgrading that person in public, to outright political annihilation. Although you might appear cooperative, lurking in the background is some form of “getting even” for the wrong done to you.

Whatever the cause, we all have our own personal brand of revenge depending on the situation. We’ve been hurt, and so we want them to hurt. We’ve been wronged, and we want the person who wronged us to suffer.

Given revenge is destructive, the costs are high. Revenge erodes relationships. It closes the door on a mutual future that would be beneficial to both. It becomes about right vs. wrong, win vs. lose, dominating vs.avoiding domination.

What impact does revenge have on the punisher? It has been reported in several major studies that thinking about revenge stimulates a region of the brain called the dorsal striatum, which becomes active when you anticipate pleasure or some reward like sex, money, or eating. But actually exacting revenge, or getting back at someone, is a different story. Studies show that while most people believe revenge will make them feel better, in reality, it does the opposite.

In one experiment, participants were divided up into punishers, who could get revenge on someone who double-crossed them during a game, and non-punishers, who could only think about getting revenge on those who double-crossed them. Both punishers and non-punishers rated their feelings immediately after the game, as well as 10 minutes later. Punishers felt worse than non-punishers, despite getting the chance to take their revenge. And punishers continued to feel worse at the 10-minute point. In some cases, the punishers remained so distracted by their feelings that they were unable to focus on the next game.

In the book Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinctauthor and psychology professor Michael McCullough explains that revenge serves an evolutionary purpose. By exacting revenge, you make a person’s gains less profitable, which helps prevent them from hurting you in the future.

Below are some ways that I have found personally and professionally useful in managing my revenge when it has been triggered.

1. Use your work to express yourself.

The best way to get revenge is to be rational, and not let your emotions control your actions: don’t make revenge personal. Being emotional will distract you and make you do things you’ll feel bad about. Instead, make it professional: work as though revenge is a business action. Someone has affected the cost-benefit ratio of your work, and now you need to move a chess piece to prevent them from taking more from you. Put a spotlight on their actions, but do it professionally.

2. Be transparent.

Most people hate conflict, but also have aggressive desires. You have to learn to go underground and attack others passively. There are people who talk about you behind your back, promise support that never materializes, or get others to attack you for them. The best revenge against these kinds of passive-aggressive behaviors is transparency.

Don’t try to hide the conflict, but showcase it instead. Discuss your faults and your conflicting feelings. Use the situation to instruct others. This kind of vulnerability doesn’t come easy — it takes work. The more you practice being transparent, the better you position yourself against those who will attack you.

3. Expand your network.

When you are attacked, one instinct is to isolate yourself. You’ll feel down and unsure of who you can trust. You’ll start to put up barriers, which is a mistake. Cutting yourself off opens you up to more attacks. It’s like retreating into a castle that’s been invaded. The preferred strategy is to move right into the forces coming at you. Run into the obstacle, not around it.

Instead of turning away from others, open yourself up to them. Discuss with your friends and family members, and make new connections. Build up your network. The more connections you have, the more communication you have, and communication is a critical part of winning any battle.

4. Take away their focus.

The worst thing about others smearing you is that they can get in your head and hijack your direction. And once they’re in your head, fighting against them is like fighting against yourself. The best way to get someone out of your head is to redirect the focus. You’re thinking about how they wronged you and they are thinking about how you could possibly respond to them. Get indirect: go above them or align yourself with an enemy of theirs.

If an person is treating your poorly, go above them. This will shift their attention from fighting you to protecting themselves from another person.

5. Create an emptiness.

When someone gets one over on you, an initial reaction will be to get one over on them. You’ll want to find justice by holding a mirror up to them, showing just why they are wrong, which is a waste of time.

No one thinks they’re wrong, at least not straight away. By immediately taking action against someone, you add energy to the situation and strengthen their resolve against you, which also exposes your position.

The better strategy is to let things marinate. This is especially true when someone attacks you online: don’t show any signs of weakness or distress, but phase yourself out of the situation and wait to see how other people respond. Create a void and see what fills it. This will give you perspective and help you gain clarity over how you can best use this situation to your advantage.

The desire to get revenge is a powerful, motivating force. What a shame it would be to waste it. That nagging feeling you get when someone mistreats you is really your ally. The problem is that most people want to fix this nagging feeling when they should be using it as stimulus to improve their lives.

Study after study shows that revenge, once exacted, is not sweet. It’s the process of plotting revenge that lights up the reward centers of our brains. So, use this to your advantage. Turn your desire to get revenge over those who wronged you into a strong reason WHY — a reason to grow and to keep taking action to bigger and bigger goals.

We all have our ways of acting when we feel wronged. But these are the five things I have found that work for me to move from a stimulus-response machine to a conscious being able to use revenge to enhance my life, not destroy it.

— Marc

Dr. Marc B. Cooper, Emeritus Faculty of The DEO

Author Dr. Marc B. Cooper, Emeritus Faculty of The DEO

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