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What Every Business Can Learn from the Kelly Ripa-ABC Spat

April 28, 2016, 6:02 PM UTC
attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.
Photograph by Frazer Harrison — Getty Images

The drama that has been unfolding around ABC’s popular morning show, Live! With Kelly and Michael offers powerful lessons for anyone who has ever been blindsided at work.

For five years, Kelly Ripa co-hosted the show with former NFL star Michael Strahan, only to learn last week that Straghan was leaving the show for a full-time gig on Good Morning America.

The problem was that Ripa was not given any heads up; she discovered Strahan’s departure only 30 minutes before the rest of the world found out on live television, even though his move had reportedly been ‘in the works’ for some time. I won’t weigh in on the ‘behind the scenes’ decisions leading to this communication breakdown. What’s important is the outcome and the impact.

After nearly 30 years with ABC, Ripa felt disrespected, blindsided, and even betrayed. She promptly took sick leave, prompting fans to wondering if she’d ever return to the show.

People get blindsided like Ripa at work all the time. Which is why her story caught my attention.

In my work with leaders and teams, I frequently see the impacts of people learning about a decision directly affecting them second- or third-hand. Think back to a time when your company was downsizing, and you find out not from your boss but from a story in the local paper; learning about a new policy only after you broke it; discovering as a program director that funding for your project is significantly cut at a quarterly meeting — along with everyone else.

When you feel blindsided, what happens? Your trust takes a hit, doesn’t it? You may even feel betrayed. Like most people, you most likely withdraw. Retreat. Pull back. You may – like Ripa – actually physically step away and completely remove yourself from the situation.

Or you may remain physically present, yet numb to the environment and other people around you. You detach and simply go through the motions to get through the day.

When dialogue completely breaks down, – when you feel the rug has been pulled out fom under you – it’s natural to wonder, is this even a place I want to be?

Yet, in this period of withdrawal, you have opportunity and choice. You can’t control what happened. But, you can control how you choose to respond. Do you want to be the victim of your experience? Or move through it?

You can choose to revisit the situation, allow yourself to feel your pain, and use it as a stepping-stone to regain your footing. You can lean back, consider the bigger picture, and gain perspective.

You can ask yourself, what is the real reason I’m ‘here,’ doing this work? Does ‘what happened’ have to mean the end of everything I care about and everything I’ve built?

Do you see?

In your choice, you create opportunity. Getting blindsided doesn’t have to rob you of your joy at work. You can choose to hang on to the relationships, teamwork, and camaraderie you value and move through the anger and bitterness. You can take responsibility for remembering and honoring what’s most important: your contribution; your relationships; the unique value of your team’s efforts.

The real difference you’re making in this world. In fact, getting blindsided can actually renew your appreciation for these things, if you allow yourself to be served – instead of destroyed – by the experience.

When Ripa returned this week to the set of Live! she didn’t point her finger or lay blame. She didn’t talk about how inappropriately she’d been treated. She acknowledged the break down in communication and voiced the lessons learned.

And then, she offered grace, forgiveness, and a powerful redirect to what mattered most – her appreciation for the people who’d made the show possible each and every day.

Consider, at this moment, do you have an opportunity to let go of the pain caused by broken trust? Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, what can you hold on to and express appreciation for?

What insight can you gain from the experience in order to rebuild trust in your relationships and be ready for what the next phase of life will bring you?

The choice is in your hands.

Michelle Reina is co-founder of Reina A Trust Building, a consultancy. She is also author of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace.