Is it important to ‘Forgive’ at our workplace?

Work Place Competencies

‘To Err is Human, to Forgive Divine’. – Alexander Pope

Forgiveness is not a word used at the workplace. We may use ‘alignment’, ‘acceptance’ and ‘apologising’, but Forgiveness is more of a moralistic word.

Recently, I was talking to a CEO, who was sharing his challenge with a senior employee. The employee had been with the organisation for more than a decade and as the organization expanded, was moved into senior positions. But though the organisation transformed into more of a professional avatar, he continued to engage openly across functions, hierarchy and ‘invisible organisational lines’, disrupting work. The CEO invested significant time in helping him change his behaviour but to no effect. It had been frustrating till the CEO finally ‘kicked him upstairs’ into a role which had fewer powers.

‘I kept moving him up the ladder, reposing faith on his wisdom and abilities. His stubbornness has caused us a significant loss of time and money’… the CEO said, and finally closing with the statement ‘ I will not be able to forgive him for that!’

This struck me as an interesting facet of their relationship. It was purely a professional setting, where the employee had been promoted multiple times because he delivered performance and showed potential. All the HR ‘scientific’ and behavioural tools were presumably used to authenticate these conclusions. Later, the employee could not change his tendency to engage ‘entrepreneurially’ across functions and hierarchies, though he made an effort. Now he was paying for the same. Where did ‘forgiveness’ come into the picture?

Whether we accept or not, forgiveness (or the lack of it) plays a significant role in our workplace engagements. We hold minor (or sometimes major) grudges against our supervisors, peers, subordinates, functions, rules/procedures etc.

Among these grudges, there are few which build up to the point that we are unable to ‘forget and move on’. Sometimes, when we recollect such ‘unforgiving stances’ from the past, they are more like ‘scars’ that we like to nurture and retain.

I had a supervisor almost 24 years back who was quite a disciplinarian. I could not understand his behaviour and disliked him from day one. Despite my hard work (in my opinion!) he did not give me a high performance rating, thus delaying my promotion. I could never forgive him for that and still hold that grudge like a precious, emotional ‘gold nugget’. Even after decades, I can feel the anger rising when I think about what he (ostensibly!) did to me.

If we think of it, we have many more relationships at the workplace than in our personal life. So the frequency/number of grudges at the workplace would be higher.

The CEO’s secretary who did not give me an appointment for some unknown reason, delaying my work? The colleague who refused to part with some data, impacting my performance? The senior manager who ignored me in the last few meetings, making me nervous during the presentation? The sycophant who got a promotion in my place? The boss who lied to me about the job profile in the interview? The subordinate who took a promotion from me and then resigned abruptly in the middle of an important project?

But as we build grudges, do we really use an effective process to ‘clean’ ourselves and move on? What could be a quick and effective way to drop useless grudges and keep smiling as we finish our day’s work?

Fred Luskin (Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects et al) and writer of many books on Forgiveness shares his process as below (which I have simplified for our workplace grudges).

1. Accept you are feeling bad and speak out how you are feeling. Share the experience with a few trusted people. (Expressing the feeling and sharing with trusted others is cathartic)

2. Forgiveness is for you and no one else. (It’s about freeing yourself from the vicious thought patterns which ignite anger, frustration and pain repeatedly).

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who upset you or condoning the action. (It’s also not about forgetting the act or ‘victimising’ the perpetrator. We accept that wrong was done and someone was responsible, but we drop our obsession with that act).

4. Give up expecting things from your life or from other people that they do not choose to give you. You will suffer when you demand that these things occur since you do not have the power to make them happen. (Manage expectations better, having a broader perspective on other’s behaviours)

5. Remember that a life well-lived is your best revenge. Put more energy into appreciating what you have rather than attending to what you do not have.

‘Dropping’ grudges formed at the job can do wonders to our engagement, performance and productivity at work. Unlike grudges in our personal life, the grudges at the workplace are usually minor ones, but more in number. As they pile up, we start disengaging from our work, become demotivated and start scripting failures for the future. Resolving them as they form is the best way to stay ‘clean, happy and energised’ at work.

Comments are welcome!

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