Anger, bitterness, utter disappointment, or even vengeance may be par for the course after being thrown under the bus. But here’s the thing: allowing these feelings to persist can have devastating consequences for the person holding the grudge.
To cut through a conflict that is disrupting the workplace and causing things to boil over may, at times, require something super rare and counterintuitive in the cold and harsh business environment. Ready to be shocked?
If you’re still with me, forgiveness is rarely discussed as a cultural trait at work. But it should be. Allow me to expand on the science of forgiveness.
In one research study with over 200 employees, forgiveness was “linked to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism (fewer days missing work), and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches.” People were just happier!
Yet still, for most of us, the default reaction to getting hurt, feeling squashed, or being wronged by someone with less integrity than you is getting revenge, stonewalling, or withdrawing in passive-aggressive anger. But these acts will consume your other emotions, creating endless cycles of resentment and retaliation that lead to a toxic lifestyle.
So what if we chose forgiveness instead?
According to research by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries in his paper, The Art of Forgiveness: Differentiating Transformational Leaders, hanging on to bitterness and hatred “create stress disorders, negatively affect the immune system, and are positively correlated with depression, anxiety, neuroticism, and premature death.”
Kets de Vries writes that choosing forgiveness to deal with your conflict lowers your anxiety levels and blood pressure. “People who forgive more readily also tend to have fewer coronary health problems,” writes Kets de Vries.
Forgiveness as a corporate value
With differing personalities, opposing agendas, political maneuvering, and power struggles at play in the workplace, forgiveness could become that untapped organizational value — that powerhouse secret weapon — to effectively diffuse conflict, restore trust, and set things right with colleagues and bosses alike.
Forgiveness also extends outwardly to impact others not involved in the conflict. When colleagues observe others practicing forgiveness, research says it often fosters positive emotions that can improve decision-making and the quality of relationships.
A great starting point? Kets de Vries writes that it’s practicing empathy–to put ourselves in others’ shoes and tap into our own self-awareness to ask questions like: Why are certain things happening? Why did that person do that? Can I see another way out of this situation? How can I respond differently?
To dispel any confusion, I’ll end with this: Forgiveness is not forgetting. Kets de Vries writes that “realistic forgiveness is about healing the memory of the harm, not erasing it. It is very different from condoning a transgression or excusing whatever unacceptable behavior has occurred.” He notes, “Forgiving means not being a prisoner of the past. When we forgive we don’t change the past, but we can change the future.”