We do not often think of forgiveness as having anything to do with the workplace, but surprisingly, forgiveness is an essential practice of a highly effective work team. Thanks to recent psychological and medical research, we know that the act of forgiveness has many benefits to the individual. “People who are taught to forgive become less angry, more hopeful, less depressed, less anxious, less stressed, more confident, and they learn to like themselves more.”1 What manager would NOT want people who are less angry, more hopeful, less depressed, etc. on their team? For a team, the benefits of forgiveness can be multiplied by the number of people who work together. An atmosphere of forgiveness will improve the teamwork, productivity, spiritual integrity and creativity of a workgroup. When practiced by a whole division or company, forgiveness can mean increased profitability.
What do we mean by forgiveness? Forgiveness is a process that we choose to take after we are wronged or hurt by another person. It does not happen automatically. Forgiveness takes a conscious effort - often, the amount of work needed to forgive is proportional to our perception of the gravity of the hurt. Forgiveness is a way to let go of the past so it doesn’t imprison you. We already know it is good for your health and good for your peace of mind. Lastly, forgiveness is a spiritual practice that we can use in the workplace. For step-by-step instructions on a personal forgiveness process, please visit a previous post called Seven Steps to Forgiveness.
To create an environment of forgiveness, a leader must start by establishing and communicating a purpose that is greater than just increased revenues or reduced costs. A compelling purpose for a team might highlight benefits to the customer and reference some of the higher values of customers and employees. For example, Mary Kay Corporation’s mission/purpose statement is "to enrich the lives of women". The leader of a team that practices forgiveness will be quick to spot conflict among members, and will coach the disputing parties to 1) air their grievances in a calm manner 2) look for the unmet needs of both parties and 3) look for mutually beneficial resolutions to the grievance - before the grievance has a chance to fester and gather emotional energy. A good leader will model forgiveness by personally following those steps toward resolution of a grievance. A good leader will create an atmosphere in which both personal and team failures are seen as learning opportunities rather than causes for recrimination.
What happens when a team does not practice forgiveness? Unresolved grudges build up resentment to levels much higher than the seriousness of the original grievance. People stop talking to each other. Opposing camps are formed, and often if one person is seen talking to a person of the "other camp" they are labeled traitors. A colleague recently described such an atmosphere at her workplace. "It’s gotten to the point that I don’t want to go to work anymore," she lamented. "I try to be nice to everyone, but sometimes I’ll try to talk to a person from the other camp, and he completely ignores me. He might refuse to perform job duties that are clearly expected of him just because he is working next to me." An unforgiving workplace is toxic, stressful, ineffective and non-productive. Absenteeism, health care costs and attrition all rise in an unforgiving environment - at great expense to the employer.
As leaders, it is our spiritual imperative to build forgiving organizations. A spiritually intelligent team is a team that learns to forgive. How can you contribute to the forgiveness quotient of your workplace?
1 Dr. Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, page 78.