Forgiveness is a Business Asset

An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye…ends in making everyone blind.

Mahatma Ghandi

Early in my adult work life, I scored what I thought was my dream job. But then I quickly fell into an insane conflict with the person who hired me. Suddenly, I couldn’t do anything right in her eyes. Some of my coworkers were in the same untenable situation with her. Things blew up and I wound up having to resign the position within weeks of starting it. It broke my heart, and I was a bit traumatized by the whole experience.

However, I did one of the most mature things I’d ever done in my entire life – I forgave her. I forgave her because the prospect of endlessly replaying events over and over in my head didn’t seem like a viable career option. I forgave her very quickly. In fact, the day I resigned, something in me didn’t view her as a well person, and for that I felt some level of compassion for her.

I’ve heard it said, “We forgive others not because it’s worthy of them, but because it’s worthy of us.”

Here’s what happened next…

I scored a job starting the next business day for twice the salary.

Spiritual? Maybe. Mystical? I don’t think so. You see, after I submitted my resignation I didn’t engage in a lot of character assassination, commiseration, or revenge fantasies. Instead, I had the presence of mind to immediately call several business contacts and let them know I was available. I was able to frame my departure in a way that was honest but didn’t indict anyone, including myself. I quickly moved from being the aggrieved party to an attractive candidate. In one of those calls, the person asked, “Can you be here Monday?” I learned that day that forgiveness was good business.

An Ongoing Strategy

Since then, I’ve had occasion to invoke forgiveness many times over as part of my marketing plan. It has given me the ability to focus on solutions, rather than stew in problems. Conflict with colleagues, customers and vendors are part of almost everyone’s business lives. Moving through those conflicts in a healthy, fluid manner is key to keeping them from inhibiting forward progress.

Forgiveness can work on many levels. Fear of making a mistake is not a productive way to go through your workday. Yet, many companies foster an environment of anxiety in which low performers are judged harshly and/or dismissed outright. Rather than create a nest where reasonable risks are encouraged and innovation is rewarded, these situations promote CYA (“Cover Your A$#”) coping strategies characterized by endless reply-all defenses to make sure “everyone is in the loop”. It gets exhausting, right?

Promoting forgiveness can increase productivity and quality. Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries authored a paper in 2013 in which he described forgiveness as a key ingredient in transformational leadership.

A Pivotal Example

I spent many years as a computer consultant servicing companies all over the New York tri-state area. One time, a new network technician recently employed by a client made what was in my opinion a drastic error in judgement. When I questioned the Marine Corps veteran IT director’s wisdom in not firing the man, I was bluntly told, “I consider this million-dollar mistake to be the cost of training this person. Do you think he’ll ever make this mistake again? Do you think I can train the kind of hyper-vigilance he’s going to bring to his job from now on? Do you think I can buy the kind of loyalty he’ll likely invest in me and this company?” The answer was a clear “no” to all three rhetorical questions. In fact, a year later I considered that same young man to be one of the most knowledgable and humble professionals I’d ever met.

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