Forgiveness is arguably the most difficult act we can show another human being. But, and most importantly, it is an act of self-love and compassion. And that is why we should strive for it. Even if the offending person does not deserve to be forgiven, we are worth more than being trapped in the cycle of grudge and revenge which will ultimately cost us our health and well-being.
How forgiveness at work will have a positive impact
Many of us have had colleagues or bosses who have acted in a despicable manner. I have had my fair share of them in the hyper competitive and macho aerial sports industry. Throughout my twenty-year career as a pilot, there have been countless people who seemed to have had no qualms about dirtying my name, patronising me or fabricating baseless stories for fun or to appear superior to me. A few years ago, before setting up my own leadership development consultancy, I had a boss who would drag me out of meetings in order that I make coffee for his guests. Or his feedback for my work would simply be: "your performance was terrible" and when I asked for more detail about where I had failed in order to improve, he would get into a rage and say: "are you arguing with my feedback?" The fact that he never actually gave me a feedback and only needed someone to use as a punch bag did not bother him. On many occasions, he would withhold important information from me so that I would appear unprepared and unprofessional in front of the rest of the team. All my attempts to find win/ win solutions to the situation I found myself in were met with more antagonism. The more I showed strength and resilience by trying to do my job, the worse the bullying became. What made it unbearable was that his was a conscious and calculated offence. The list of abominable deeds from this particular boss is long and certainly not worth writing. Suffice to say that a few of my colleagues took advantage of his behaviour to off-load their shortcomings and inadequacies onto me, thus aggravating team morale and productivity.
After a year - the most stressful one of my entire career - my self-worth was at its lowest and with it, my mental well-being with many negative consequences on my work and personal life. I pride myself with being very tough, but it was definitely time to put a stop to the abuse.
On my last day at work, I asked my boss to have a quick meeting. He was very nervous as he imagined it was going to be payback time. But I had been preparing myself with a much more powerful tool. I told him that I was grateful to him for having given me the opportunity to work in that team in the first place. I left the company with my head held high, knowing my own self-worth and at peace with the person who had caused so much pain. I believe that resulted in a positive impact not just on him but also on the entire team.
Forgiveness comes from the soul not from the mind
My first intention for forgiving my boss was to liberate myself from the darkness that his actions had plunged me into. Because I deserve more than being a slave to someone else's whimsical opinion of what I am worth.
My second intention was to lead by example. Perhaps others within the organisation could see the benefit of a powerful way to resolve conflict and stressful situations through forgiveness. Leaders who model forgiveness nurture similar behaviour in others.
If I had thought this through, I probably wouldn't have been able to forgive. It defies logic. Why should I forgive an abuser? This is why forgiveness cannot come from the mind. It can only come from the heart, the soul. Because it reflects back to the soul that which it already knows: self-love and self-compassion. And of course, love and compassion for others. I realised that the boss's behaviour had nothing to do with me and everything to do with himself. And perhaps through my forgiveness, he could also learn to forgive himself.
Empowered through choice
In his book "Man's search for Meaning", Viktor Frankl eloquently describes how we have the choice, even under extreme conditions (in his case Auschwitz Concentration Camp) to forgive in order to free ourselves.
Conflict is inevitable in the work place. People make mistakes. It's important to own those mistakes as individuals who have made them. I believe organisations should encourage employees and especially leaders to have the courage to find a way to forgive and set firm boundaries to stop repeat offences. Leaders who foster accountability and know when to forgive create a brighter, more productive future for their team and the organisation as a whole.