“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog post on workplace grudges and how to manage that anger appropriately (see The Workplace Grudge). This week, the focus is on learning to forgive; a lesson that almost all of us need to revisit on a regular basis.

Forgiveness can be defined as the intentional release of feelings of resentment or vengeance, even if the person or group who harmed you hasn’t sought forgiveness. On the flip side, seeking forgiveness means that you’re apologizing for your actions and are seeking to rectify as much harm as possible. True forgiveness allows for you to move on and no longer allow that hurt to control your emotions and actions. While easily said, in practice this is difficult for most of us.

When seeking to forgive, start with forgiving yourself. Brené Brown, Ph.D., in her many talks and writings, discusses the idea that you must start with forgiving and accepting yourself prior to learning to forgive and accept others. Regardless of your role in the event that caused the harm, take an honest evaluation of the situation and your contribution to the events. Even as an innocent party, think about times that you may have acted inappropriately or forgot to accomplish a task. Now apply those thoughts to ensure you have forgiven yourself and placing yourself in the other party’s shoes.

Forgetting the wrong is not part of the definition; rather your job is to treat the other party with respect and dignity. Forgiveness of an individual doesn’t excuse the behavior, nor do you have to allow consistent harm against you. Depending on the situation, you can take the appropriate steps to minimize or rectify the behavior. Don’t forget to always take the high road.

If the party that caused the damage, missed the deadline, or acted inappropriately has been repentant, how did you respond? Your response is critical. If the individual is truly repentant, and you respond with anger, you can create further harm. If you did act out of anger or hurt, it may be your turn to come back to them seeking forgiveness for your inappropriate behavior or response. Yes, read that again, it can be a very tough pill to swallow. Take the time to remove yourself from the situation and really mediate on the actions that caused you to be angry or hurt, and then take the mental steps towards releasing that hurt and anger. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Despite the other party’s frame of mind (repentance, avoidance, etc.), focus on taking a problem solving approach. In general, we spend a lot of our awake time with our coworkers, bosses, and employees and we must learn to interact in a professional way, this includes resolving issues and remembering the purpose of your work.

In all that you do, treat those around with respect and dignity whether or not you feel they deserve to be treated that way.