“I forgive you.” It’s easy to say, but harder to do.

Have you ever been wronged by someone? Of course, you have. And when that happens, what’s your normal reaction? Usually, we lash out in anger or try to get some measure of revenge. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” We know it’s the best course of action; and yet, rarely do we forgive.

The relationship between an employer and a company is exactly that: a relationship. And just like in your private life with family, friends, and soulmates, the relationship between employer and employee should be based on trust, transparency, and forgiveness. In the office, the ability to forgive and forget is the key to many workforce management principles like engagement, teamwork, collaboration, productivity, and reaching goals.

Here are some areas where forgiveness, or a lack thereof, can heal or cause even more damage.

Blame

Does anything ever truly get resolved when you play the “blame game”? When employees place blame on others rather than working to resolve the issue at hand and forgive, it’s difficult for projects to be successfully completed.

Accusations

It’s similar to blaming and finger-pointing, but making accusations can be even worse. Accusing employees and coworkers is an instant killer: it’s a morale killer, a team killer, and a company killer. Accusations have to be investigated, judged, and ultimately decided on. Then, discipline must be administered. Oftentimes, even once it’s all over, there are lingering damages and hurt feelings.

Cruelty

Believe it or not, some people who have only a limited amount of power at work tend to abuse that power by yelling at staff members or insulting them. Other actions like cutting employee hours, denying promotions or better shifts, not accommodating time-off requests, denying employees the opportunity for training, are just a few more examples of this kind of behavior.

Jealousy

Sometimes jealousy is unfounded, and sometimes it’s not. Either way, when jealousy enters your team or organization, you have to address it immediately or it will get stronger and make things worse. Usually, the earlier you catch it and squash it, the easier it is for everyone involved to forgive and move on. In most cases, employees become jealous when they are passed over for a promotion, suspect special treatment, or feel under-appreciated.

I am not simply advocating that YOU try forgiveness here; it has actually worked for me, personally. I had to forgive a director who nearly terminated me. I was a young corporate trainer who reported to a supervisor we’ll call “Henry.” The director, whom we’ll call “Martha,” and the supervisor were good friends and they got along well. One day, Martha called me into her office because she had learned in a management meeting that I had made an executive decision without her knowledge. The decision wasn’t a bad one; it was just that Martha had no prior knowledge of it. I told Martha I had to make a quick decision because Henry was unavailable. She was not too happy and didn’t believe me, and when she asked Henry about it, he basically threw me under the bus. I was written up.

I tried to plead my case, but Martha was convinced that I was wrong. However, she did monitor the situation a little more closely. It wasn’t until another trainer met with her and explained that he too was unable to find Henry on most days and had to make executive decisions on the spot that she reconsidered my case. After Martha finished her own investigation, she learned that Henry was having personal problems in his marriage and was in fact missing a lot of time at work and leaving us to make executive decisions. Henry was dealt with and Martha apologized to me. I could have held a grudge and become extremely difficult and untrusting of her, but I didn’t. Ultimately, I knew that she had no idea how bad it was, and once she decided to investigate further, she saw for herself how Henry’s problems had affected the team. She addressed the situation and sincerely apologized. So I forgave her and we had a successful working relationship for many years after that. That experience convinced me of the power of forgiveness. Try it yourself and see what it can do for you.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

7 Comments

  • Avatar Gilde W. says:

    I had quite the same situation with my own “Harry” and “Martha”. The ending of the story was different, as our “Henry” didn’t admit his mistake. I took offense and changed jobs. But at the new place, there were always the same “Henries” and “Marthas” and I understood that people are too difficult to avoid uneasy situations. If you want to be a good professional, you should learn to forgive.

  • Avatar Chris Fields says:

    Thank you Glide.I’m so glad my Martha decided to look into it a little more and then apologize – many Directors wouldn’t have taken the time.

  • Avatar Scottie M. says:

    People forgive in different ways. Some of my colleagues prefer to forget what happened and not to mention that again. As for me, I can forgive easily only after an apology and no other way. People say it’s bad, but what can I do?

  • Avatar Laurie K. says:

    I like that quotation from Mahatma Gandhi, and also I like the one by Albert Einstein: “You can solve your problems only if you rise above the level on which you created them.” So, to forgive, you should be a level higher than the person that offended you. If you cannot forgive, you are not better than your offender.

  • Avatar Macy Graham says:

    I am happy to have employees who do not blame or accuse each other. On the contrary, they hide each other’s mistakes from their managers. On the one hand, this is bad because they keep their secrets to themselves and I cannot approach them. On the other hand, it’s great because they make sure everything is done well without a manager’s intrusion.

  • Avatar Claire says:

    I’m in difficulties at work, and forgiveness will be based on how things are handled…

  • Avatar Susan Dingle says:

    Forgiveness is good and sometimes it is hard – even for a strong person – to forgive. But it is better to try, and as another noted, to rise above things. It is difficult, however, if you work in an atmosphere where managers do not like confrontation and are in denial about how difficult some aspects in the work environment really are. Try to rise above it. Remember persons who have forgiven much more horrible things than what you are dealing with at work. Try humor, and try moving on.

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