Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. ~Paul Boese
Continuing with Kim Cameron’s research regarding the qualities of a positive climate: compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude. I’m focusing this week on forgiveness.
Through research, it was discovered that after organizations downsize, 80% of them experience a decline in performance. The other 20% flourish! What’s different about that 20%? Forgiveness.
The Mayo Clinic says that "forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life."
An organizational perspective on forgiveness is not much different. Kim Cameron says that "forgiveness does not require abandoning anger or resentment, nor does it require pardoning or dismissing the offense. It involves acknowledging and reframing negative feelings and attitudes."
This idea of acknowledging and reframing has raised a question for me; do we give employees the opportunity to forgive? Or, do put up so many barriers and impediments that forgiveness isn't possible?
Like everything in life, there's a limit. For example, sometimes employees are so destructive that they need to be removed from an organization by a somewhat harsh and direct means. So forgiveness is unlikely. But what about those circumstances when an employee isn't destructive, yet, they are given a file box on Friday afternoon at 4pm and asked not to return on Monday? Have we stripped them of the capacity to forgive? Or what about when a leader leaves an organization with unresolved anger, tension and misunderstandings with employees? Or one of my favorite, when we tell employees that the hurt they experienced by a leader is simply wrong because that leader didn't intend to hurt them. We are asking them to abandon their anger because we don't think they should be angry, or maybe said more realistically, we don't think they deserve to be angry.
Kim Cameron suggests a number of leadership activities that were found to enable organizational forgiveness. The first is: Acknowledge anger and resentment. Recognize that forgiveness does not occur quickly. Allow time for grieving.
Acknowledging, or simply recognizing, someone's anger is critical. Yet, I can list numerous times I've watched leaders in organizations run from anger by refusing to take phone calls, not responding to fuming emails, or avoiding any conversation regarding the anger.
We can't change the past, but we can enlarge the future by creating a climate that makes forgiveness possible. Do our organizational climates make forgiveness possible?