The term, “friendly fire” is usually reserved for use in military contexts to describe a mistaken attack on friendly forces instead of the intended target, the enemy. There have been numerous accounts of friendly fire, including those resulting in injury or death. In non military contexts, friendly fire is often used to describe unintentional harm done by someone who was thought to be on the same side (such as a friend, colleague, etc.). The results of non military friendly fire, although usually not fatal, can have serious ramifications. The old adage, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” sums up the negative consequences of friendly fire for the person who is the unintended target of his/her friend’s attack. The results of friendly fire can have devastating consequences on both the “attacker” and the “victim,” often leading to the discontinuation of their friendship. Within the context of a personal relationship, as opposed to a business relationship, the level of implicit trust that had been present between friends is usually permanently damaged after an incident of friendly fire. Recent events have led me to write this post about friendly fire. Someone in whom I had placed my implicit trust, for many decades, subjected me to a “friendly fire” incident, which, to make matters even worse, occurred in my own home, in the presence of many other people, including long time friends, neighbors, business associates, and my husband. The long term consequences of this terrible incident have yet to reveal themselves, however, suffice it to say that my experience of friendly fire was both unexpected and unprovoked. As Chuck Berry once said, “…it just goes to show, you never can tell.”
The other thing about friendly fire incidents is that they can happen so suddenly. I suppose that is part of the definition of friendly fire – something that takes one by surprise. I recently read that betrayal only comes from someone close to you. That, too, is probably part of the definition. Generally such incidents occur without any forethought about the ramifications of the actions. But, that is the problem, failure to think of the consequences of one’s actions. And, like the ripples that follow a rock tossed into still water, the ramifications can go on and on. In a business context these can include damage to client or vendor relationships. And such events are expensive. The offender often apologizes and says “…I didn’t think (this would happen)…” or “…I didn’t intend to…” But, the damage is done regardless. There may be ways to minimize the damage and avoiding experiencing the friendly fire in the first place by foreseeing what others will do. But no one can anticipate every event, and again, by definition, friendly fire is what happens when you have no reason to anticipate damaging actions because one trusts the source. Melissa’s example involved a friend, and the ramifications were both business and personal. We have also experienced friendly fire from employees who quit abruptly, attempt to steal clients, or otherwise harm us. Though some of their actions may be intentional, the ramifications are often more than they intended. I don’t know what conclusions to draw from this discussion other than to say, if you are a friend, or (loyal) employee, consider the ramifications of your acts if you really do not intend to do harm.