When I was a child and my parents took me to church, I frequently heard about forgiveness—usually in terms of specific indiscretions. I also heard about forgiveness in terms of turning the other cheek, which I tended to believe saintly or very noble people did more often than regular people. I recognized the need to maintain positive relationships; however, I didn't often think about forgiveness outside of a spiritual context or as something people do to enhance personal and professional relationships.
I have come to realize that forgiveness is something that goes beyond the spiritual realm. It means that individuals agree to let bygones be bygones so they can work together in the future.
Forgiveness is something an individual does for himself and that a leader does and promotes so that groups and individuals can thrive.
When leaders and people with whom they work hold grudges or refuse to forgive someone of a transgression of any type, they limit interactions with them. They reduce the opportunity for collaboration and combined effort. They do not ask for or offer assistance.
While talking about trust, Steve Barone and Larry Huggins of Transformation Systems, Ltd., referred to this process as The Incredible Shrinking Organization. They said that when someone loses trust in others, they “mark them off” their list of contacts in the group. Marking only one or two people off may not do major harm. However, as the numbers rise, the opportunities for collaboration and joint effort drop significantly.
For the individual, whether a leader or a follower, holding grudges and refusing to forgive reduces effectiveness. Continuing to think about someone else’s wrongdoing, slight or broken promise prevents more productive thought and action. Holding on to negative emotions prevents lighter emotions that often increase productive action.
In addition to reducing opportunities for collaboration and divergent ideas, members of a group in which colleagues hold grudges find it difficult to navigate awkward situations that come from strained relationships. They also suffer from reduced interaction and negative emotions.
What can a leader do to encourage forgiveness and collaboration? Each situation is as different as the individuals who are involved. However, some suggestions leaders can adopt to encourage positive and collaborative cultures are listed below:
- Practice forgiveness.
- Openly discuss the need to collaborate and resolve differences.
- Reduce opportunities for hard feelings brought about by favoritism or thoughtless comments.
- Teach and practice conflict resolution skills.
- Learn and teach others how to extend effective apologies and complaints, which I will discuss in more detail in later posts.
These actions require thought and focused action. They also reap substantial rewards. What other ideas do you have have for reducing hard feelings and promoting collaboration.