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There is an assumption that forgiveness is an all-round good thing. But should you always forgive those who wrong you at work? If so, how can you go about it?
Why should you forgive?
“Without forgiveness, your emotional energies can still be tied up in whatever it was that happened,” says Ann Macaskill, professor of health psychology at the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University. “Because it’s work, you often can’t avoid the person and seeing them can make you upset and angry.” By not forgiving them, you are letting them control you. Moreover, she adds, a harmonious workplace is more pleasant and productive. “There is huge amount of unresolved conflict at work. It is a serious issue and it means people don’t do their best.”
Is all forgiveness equal?
“There is a spectrum of offences,” says career coach Jenny Ungless. “It should be easier to forgive sins of competence and genuine mistakes than sins of character.” You should not demand apologies for tiny infractions, but do not forgive everything unconditionally either. “Don’t be a doormat and don’t tolerate bad behaviour,” says Ms Ungless.
In some cases, you can adopt a half-forgiving stance, suggests Jessica Pryce-Jones, chief executive of iOpener, a consultancy. “You might say: ‘You have upset me. Don’t do it again.” In this way, you are not saying everything is OK, but you imply that it is no longer annoying you and that you can both move on.
How do I actually forgive someone?
Ms Pryce-Jones says: “For you to forgive them, they have to acknowledge that they have transgressed. You have to have a conversation and say that X has happened.” Prof Macaskill says that even if they apologise fully, “you may not respond immediately. You might need to go away and think about it.” Accepting an apology is not always easy: it can help to remind yourself that we’re all human and all make mistakes.
When you accept the apology, you give up the victim role and tell the other person you want both of you to resume your relationship. But do not expect things to go back immediately to how they were before. “You may forgive rationally quite quickly but emotionally it takes longer and you can expect both sides to be wary,” says Prof Macaskill.
What if I can’t forgive?
Check that you are not being over-sensitive. “Talk to a disinterested third party,” says Ms Pryce-Jones. “They may tell you you’re being ridiculous and getting your knickers in a twist over nothing.”
Prof Macaskill advises pragmatism: “You will probably still have to work with the person. If you can’t forgive, you may be able to draw a line.” Forgiveness is not always the best option. “There are things we shouldn’t forgive easily – such as bullying. We can be too tolerant,” she adds.
The writer is the author of ‘The Careerist: Over 100 ways to get ahead at work’
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