Have you, or has 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, or holding onto toxic 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” (Christopher Peterson, 2006)
My client, colleague, and friend, Yencie, and I examined this question based on our interesting experiences and conversations about the application of positive psychology in the workplace, in particular how forgiveness is relevant in organizational well-being and health. In this we have also drawn on some writings by experts in this area.
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 organizations. Forgiveness is an act of strength, courage, and discipline, and requires great self awareness and perspective.
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, and poor health. Effective team management relies on being able to forgive one another and move on.
During a workshop, participants highlighted a number of areas where forgiveness impacted their work outcomes. The group determined that 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 people learn to identify collective and individual wrongs, to support each other through the journey of forgiveness, and to 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 us more than the person who has wronged or hurt us. It allows us to see the big picture, and releases us to move into the present moment. It is difficult to look ahead until we begin to forgive and to have a desire to move on. Forgiveness is not easy, nor quick; it happens in small stages. It is a process that transcends the rational mind and calls on our wisdom. It’s not just another way of thinking, it requires a transformed mindset and new patterns of behavior.
However 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:
- Begrudging (perpetuates negativity, survival/fight/compete, self-protection – forgiveness is an illusion)
- Pragmatic (neutralizes the negativity, self interest, compromise – forgiveness is a necessity)
- 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)
Next month I will continue on this topic of forgiveness at work, by referring to selected recent writings and journals on this topic. If you would like me to consider topics specific to forgiveness, just leave a comment here or send me an email.
Photos by Amanda Horne
Addington T.J. (2008). Leading From the Sandbox: Develop, Empower and Release High Impact Ministry Teams. Sandbox Resources.
Alloro, L. (2009). Bee-ing the Change. Positive Psychology News.
Bright, D.S. (2006) ‘Forgiveness as an attribute of leadership’ in E. Hess & K. Cameron, K. (eds), Leading with Values: Positivity, Virtue and High Performance. Cambridge University Press
Cameron,K., Dutton, J. & Quinn, R. (Eds.) (2003). Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline, San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.
Dowrick, S. (2005) Choosing Happiness: Life and Soul Essentials. Tarcher.
Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. New York: Bantam Books.
Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B. (2006). Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press.
Luthans, F., Youssef-Morgan, C. & Avolio, B. (2015). Psychological Capital and Beyond. Oxford University Press. (Added later)
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Peterson, C., (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Turner, D. (2007). The Miracle and the Irony of Forgiving. Positive Psychology News.