Monthly Archives: October 2008

Letting Go

This month I’m delighted to send you this piece which was co-written by Yencie Fogden (colleague and friend) and myself. Yencie and I have enjoyed interesting experiences and conversations about the application of positive psychology in the workplace. See below highlights, on the challenging topic of forgiveness.

Have you, or someone you know, been annoyed, hurt or wronged by another person? Are you still holding onto that hurt? Are you hanging onto baggage, giving power to the past, being held back from moving on, being controlled by the past, holding onto negativity?

Forgiveness is the “queen of the virtues”; it “frees us from the troubled past”; it is about “finding a way to free oneself from the claws of obsession about the hurt”. (Chris Peterson, 2007)

Forgiveness at Work

When working with people and teams on this area, we have observed rich and insightful discussions about the role of forgiveness in the workplace. Far from being seen as soft and irrelevant, executives say that forgiveness is essential if people are to lead successful lives, projects, teams and organisations.

The ramifications of unforgiving teams can be destructive. The effects of unresolved issues amongst team members can lead to high levels of absenteeism, high levels of staff turnover, poor team performance & poor health. Effective team management relies on being able to forgive one another and move on.

During a recent positive psychology workshop, participants highlighted a number of areas where forgiveness impacted their work area outcomes. The group determined in order to be a high performing team, learning to forgive others is not only important for the leader but for the team itself. They identified the need to build a ‘culture of forgiveness’ where they learn to identify wrongs, support each other through the journey of forgiveness and let go of past mistakes.

“When we refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us we rob ourselves of the ability to influence or impact them. And we live in the prison of our own unforgiveness because what we cannot forgive we cannot let go of” (Addington, 2008).

Forgiveness is not condoning, nor pretending that a wrong is right. The process of forgiveness benefits you more than the person who has wronged or hurt you. It allows you to see the big picture, and releases you to move into the present moment. It is not easy, nor quick; it happens in small stages. It is a process that transcends the rational mind and calls on your wisdom, and has psychological and physical benefits. It is difficult to look ahead until you begin to forgive and have a desire to move on.

The benefits are worth working towards:

  • broader and richer social relationships
  • greater feelings of empowerment and life satisfaction
  • increased serenity, generosity, agreeableness and emotional stability
  • greater strength and excellence, and improved performance
  • less physical illness and faster recovery from disease and injury
  • less anger, depression, anxiety, hostility, passive-aggressive behaviours

David Bright (Assistant Professor in the Department of Management at Wright State University) suggests that there are three modes of reaction to a hurt or transgression:

  1. Begrudging (perpetuates negativity, survival/fight/compete, self-protection – Forgiveness is an illusion)
  2. Pragmatic (neutralises the negativity, self interest, compromise – Forgiveness is a necessity)
  3. Transcendent (transforms the negativity, learn, transcend – Forgiveness is a life choice)

Forgiveness “enables the offended person to transcend negative emotions, to think broadly about the negative experience, and to consider how it might lead to positive outcomes. Negative experiences present an opportunity for learning. From this perspective, forgiveness becomes a life-choice and an opportunity for achieving one’s highest potential as a person or leader.” (David Bright, 2006)

Forgive, because some day you will need forgiveness.

Bright, D.S. (2006) ‘Forgiveness as an attribute of leadership’ in: Leading with Values by E. Hess and K. Cameron
Cameron, K.S., Dutton, J., Quinn, R.E. (2003) Positive Organizational Scholarship
Dowrick, S. (2005) Choosing Happiness
Goleman, D (2006) Social Intelligence
Luthans, F., Youssef, C.M., Avolio, B.J. (2007) Psychological Capital
Peterson, C. (2006) A Primer in Positive Psychology
Addington T.J, (2008) Leading From the Sandbox: Develop, Empower and Release High Impact Ministry Teams
Seligman, M.E. (2003) Authentic Happiness