To continue sharing information about forgiveness at work, Part 2 below highlights some key points from two recent articles about workplace forgiveness. This article also includes some practical tips from people who practice forgiveness at work. The article below was originally posted on Positive Psychology News Daily in July 2010.
Leadership and forgiveness
The two articles, one by Charles Kerns and the other by Susan Madsen and colleagues, emphasize that the benefits gained from practicing forgiveness at work are so compelling and persuasive that all good leaders and managers could benefit from creating cultures of forgiveness.
“Forgiving requires the manager to accept the responsibility and challenge in accepting others as human persons with and without their faults, and learning to live together without sustained anger and resentment.” (Madsen et al).
Thriving at work through forgiveness
The nature of work is such that perceived transgressions, annoyances, interpersonal conflict, arguments, disagreements, and mistakes are bound to occur. It can be hard work to find ways to move beyond these situations in order to work productively together. When employees practice forgiveness, the benefits at work include:
- productive interpersonal relationships
- thriving teamwork
- job satisfaction, high morale, and employee retention
- innovative problem solving
- flexibility when facing change
- physical, mental, and emotional health
“Forgiveness has been shown to motivate employees to ‘extend acts of conciliation and goodwill toward the offender and to overcome social estrangement’, which makes the working relationship between individuals more effective and productive. Forgiveness is actually a type of ‘problem-solving coping strategy in that it reconciles conflicting parties and salvages the social relationship for future interactions’. When resentment and other negative feelings between co-workers exist, it is very difficult to maintain current levels of job performance let alone improve it.” (Madsen et al)
Forgiveness takes strength
Repeating a theme introduced last month, forgiveness is not a weakness. It is not about condoning poor behaviour or offences. According to Madsen and colleagues, it is not about “letting someone off the hook, forgetting, giving up or giving in, or being soft. Authentic forgiveness is none of these.” To forgive takes great power. Strengths we can use to help to be more forgiving include: self discipline and self-control, courage, compassion, empathy, creativity, open mindedness, perspective, kindness, and leadership. And humility….
Humility and forgiveness
“When people do not see beyond their own needs and desires, it becomes difficult for them to practice forgiveness. They are not disposed to forgiveness, and expect things to go their way in most organizational encounters. Egotistical people are more likely to perceive transgressions and transgressors in unforgiving ways.” Charles Kerns
I asked Kathryn Britton, who wrote a recent PPND article on Humility, for her views on how humility helps to build forgiveness:
“Humility means not setting yourself apart from others, not believing yourself specially deserving or endowed. It means being open to new information that contradicts previous opinions. Humble people are probably less intense about the perceptions of injury in the first place and more open to perceiving the other person’s point of view. They may also be more likely to think, “There but for the grace of God go I”.”
How do people achieve forgiveness? A number of clients and friends shared their insights:
- Person 1 had some angst about an ex-colleague who broke his trust. They no longer work together nor see each other. Person 1 has a valuable item of stationery which was given to him by the ex-colleague during better days. Not wanting to be petty (he thought about throwing it away in anger), when he uses the object he thinks only of the good times he had at work with his ex-colleague.
- Person 2, in the face of another’s transgressions, stays focused on the future and works very hard on staying true to her values, strengths and integrity. This prevents her from falling into unhelpful thoughts and vengeful behaviours.
- Person 3 was the recipient of verbal abuse by a colleague who was jealous of Person 3’s success. Worthington’s REACH process was very powerful and effective in helping Person 3 to eliminate her own anger and to remain open and constructive to everyone, including the abuser.
Recall the hurt
Empathize with the one who hurt you
Altruistic gift of forgiveness
Commitment to forgive
Hold on to the forgiveness“The reason I was able to get to this point was because I was humble enough to recognize that I could react in the same way. We’re all capable of unpleasant behaviours.”
- Person 4 uses breathing and mindfulness. The goal of this was to find calm in the storm, and he realised in hindsight that it also helped him to forgive and find empathy.
- Person 5 practices self-forgiveness. He re-judges, stands back, and accepts that it is ok to make a mistake. He asks, “Am I going to let this thought affect me?.” He practices being less judgmental of himself, and this lessens his guilt and regret. The outcome is greater self-confidence and learning.
The final perspective to leave with you is this one offered by Sue Hays at the Canberra Mindfulness Centre about the emotions we harbour when we hold a grudge. I explained that many discuss the notion of letting go of those emotions. Sue offered this alternative: “Forgiveness can be easier if you don’t try to let go of the emotions that arise when holding grudges. Instead, practice ‘letting be’. Notice, accept, and then turn your attention to growing something new. Growing the new means turning attention away from feeding the past. Let the old just wither away with non-attention”.
Kerns, Charles D. (2009). Forgiveness at Work: Managing the Dynamics and Reaping the Benefits,. Kravis Leadership Institute, Leadership Review, 9, 80-90.
Madsen, Susan R., Gygi, J., Plowman, S. F., & Hammond, S. C. (2009). Forgiveness as a workplace intervention: The literature and a proposed framework. Journal of Applied and Behavioral Management, 10(2), 246-262.
Stratton, S. P., Dean, J. B., Nonneman, A., Bode, R. A., & Worthington, E. (2009). Forgiveness interventions as spiritual development strategies: Comparing forgiveness workshop training, expressive writing about forgiveness, and retested controls. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27(4), 347-357.
Information about Everett Worthington: http://www.has.vcu.edu/psy/people/worthington.html