Forgiveness: Is a Workplace Grudge Holding You Back?

Is a workplace grudge holding you back?

In my first blog post, I shared some thoughts about disappointment, one of two key human conditions that I’ve observed in my Healing Conversations practice that consistently drain and distract people from reaching their full potential (and enjoyment) in the workplace.

The second condition that I’ve noticed revolves is around the concept of forgiveness.  You may be scratching your head right now and wondering what in the world forgiveness has to do with project management, but I assure you, once the shiny veneers of professionalism and task-orientation are removed, we are all impressionable, vulnerable human beings, and to put it bluntly, sometimes our feelings get hurt at work.

This can impact the project in many ways: reluctance to go forward or engage, letting the feeling that you have been diminished or slighted mar your judgment and fairness, and the “I’ll show them” attitude that impacts how you make decisions, interact with co-workers, and generally perceive situations.

On a personal note, you may be surprised how many times, a talented project manager shares with me in casual conversation that some unfortunate work event from months ago has blighted their ability to show up 100% in new positions. It is as if after the “months ago” event, some part of them closed down. They still carry around the slight, hurt, or insult like a boiling kettle with no spout to release the steam. Yes, we can all learn from our experiences but we have to be careful not to lose from our experiences.

Just as with disappointment, unless you are encased in Plexiglas, everyone experiences some degree of hurt feelings during their career. We know this innately, because our culture is peppered with expressions like “once burnt, twice shy” and “fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me”.

For example, I had a conversation last week with a project manager from Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) who is gifted with exceptionally strong interpersonal skills.  He shared that because of a hurtful work misunderstanding incurred early in his career, he “freezes up” when the same type of scenario appears again. Of course, being a top-notch professional be has developed a strategy to mask his feelings and navigate his way through the project successfully, but at he end of the day, it takes a lot of energy and robs him of well deserved job satisfaction.

From my perspective, a smart project manager needs to anticipate and accept that there is lots of room for an unfortunate workplace scenario to reach deep inside, grip, and twist tight … and then hang on, perhaps for years (gasp!). The risk is greater when deadlines are tight or a crisis occurs, often the case in any complex project.

After much observation (and sometimes consternation), it occurred to me that some project managers simply didn’t have a practical plan to help them release the hurt and forgive the perceived offender by tapping into their strongest suit – the ability to plan and execute a project in a step-by-step process.  At the end of the day, what they were really asking was me was: “How do release this hurt feeling so I can show up at work in a positive, motivated, and 100% productive way?” (With the emphases on “How do I ….?”).

Enter Dr. Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and his common sense, results-oriented, program called Nine Steps to Forgiveness. For me, it was exactly the “How to” solution that could empower project managers to release and heal workplace hurts and woes in a logical, practical, and sequential manner.

So, if you are feeling hurt or disappointed about something or someone in your work life, please check this out because if it helped people who suffered from the violence in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone as well as the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, it most certainly holds potential for you too:

Dr. Fred Luskin’s Nine Steps to Forgiveness (with my input in italics):

“1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace and to excel at managing your project and yourself. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that comes from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response. Example:    Breathe deep, go for a walk, stretch, repeat positive, self-affirming messages like “Think of the big picture”; “Will this really matter in one year?”,   and if all else fails, try humor (laugh at yourself and at the situation).  It helps … yes, the voice of experience is speaking.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. You can control how you view the situation not how others view it.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is the best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for love, beauty, and kindness around you.  Remember the focus on workLIFE rather than WORKlife. Forgiveness is about personal power.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression, and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health. It also influences our attitude which opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.”

Links: 9 Steps to Forgiveness and Dr. Fred Luskin

At the end of the day, project management is about getting things and time and people to co-operate. Forgiveness allows you to move your focus to using all your skills, all the time to achieve the greater goals for your project and your life.  Thank you Dr. Fred Luskin!


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