We don't often hear these three words in the workplace: forgive, love, and compassion. Yet when we meaningfully express them and use them as a call to action they can have a huge impact on the culture of our organizations.
Forgive: The Encarta Dictionary defines forgive this way: “(to) stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behaviour; or, to excuse somebody for a mistake, misunderstanding, wrongdoing or inappropriate behaviour.” I haven’t heard the words “forgive” or “forgiveness” used much in the workplace. When they are used with meaning they have a powerful impact. Mostly I have heard words that beg forgiveness like "sorry" and "apologize." Often with little meaning behind them. They were more polite words, then meaningful words. I have also heard expressions that can easily be interpreted as discriminatory, blaming or name calling.
Everyday someone in the workplace, including the boss, makes mistakes. Mistakes are made because we are not perfect. The thing about mistakes is that they can be corrected, and they do need to be corrected. However, there is no room for the blame game, name calling and discriminatory language. To get caught up in the latter is a sure sign we are still harbouring anger or resentment. Correct the behavior and when appropriate say, “I forgive you, and mean it.” Think of the positive effect it would have on the culture of an organization if people forgave each other for past wrong doing or misunderstanding.
Seeking forgiveness and forgiving are not easy. Read the definition again: “stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behaviour.” It’s easy for someone to say "I'm sorry" and “I forgive you.” It’s harder to remove the resentment or anger one feels. This takes time, but until we come to grips with these feelings we will become consumed by them and the anger and resentment will tear us up from the inside out and our relationships and overall effectiveness will be diminished. So, the first thing we need to consider is the forgiveness of oneself, because it is the self, who holds the resentment, anger and grudge. It is a reciprocal process binding both forgiveness and forgiving. And once the healing is experienced through forgiveness and forgiving we can go on and forgive others.
Forgiving and asking for forgiveness also takes courage. Asking for forgiveness shows our vulnerability. Something we don't do easily as we see vulnerability as a weakness. When we understand the power of forgiveness we turn that weakness into a strength. Seeking forgiveness lessens our burden and actually shows the strength of our character, and when accepted, the character of those we work with. When the reciprocal activity of forgiveness happens in the workplace it is a powerful statement of the trust, openness and compassion found in the relationships we have with each other, our team or our organization as a whole..
Forgiveness in the workplace pales against the seeking and giving of forgiveness we read about regarding the "Truth and Reconciliation" process people experienced in South Africa, or about our own process regarding our First Nation's people. The stories that were told, the deep forgiveness that was extended during those hearings should be an inspiration for all of us. If you get a chance, read some of those stories and be inspired about forgiveness, and ask, "why is it so hard to do this in our places of work?"
Love: Love is a loaded word in our society and perhaps it has always been that way. Love is almost always associated with emotion and synonymous with passion, attraction, desire, and sexual feelings. We certainly don’t condone sexual behaviour in the work place and many businesses have rightly developed policies about “romantic relationships.” However, we do use the words “passion” and “love” to express how we feel about what we do, for example: “I love what I do,” or, “ I’m really passionate about my work.”
Another meaning for love is expressed through the acts of patience, kindness, respect, selflessness or gratitude towards one another no matter how hard that may be. This is a different kind of love. It is the love of volition, or the love of choice. It means our willingness to pay attention to the needs, best interest and the well-being of others, regardless of how we feel in any given day. It's the persistent positive action of what one does. It is consistent, fair and foundational. This is the type of love we can show in the workplace. As someone once said: “Love is, is what love does.”
This is also the love that strong leaders share with their organizations and people they serve. Consider for a moment the impact great leaders have had who were not afraid to use and express love through their actions, such as: Jesus, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, and Mother Teresa; or leaders in the business and sports world such as Jack Welsh, Herb Kelleher, John Hunter, Kevin Roberts and Vince Lombardi.
One well respected Executive Director, I know, had no difficulty pointing out mistakes or correcting poor behaviour. When he was done with the correcting he would always say, “We still love you,” and did so in the kindliest of ways.
Compassion: There are several ways in which we can develop a culture of compassion in the workplace. Take for instance we can in a compassionate way:
Yet the word “compassion” is seldom used. How often have you heard, “let’s show some compassion to our fellow workers?” or, “we need to be compassionate about those less fortunate than us?" Compassion is all about understanding or empathy for the suffering of others. Here’s what I have heard too frequently: “tough it out,” "don’t cry,” “stop your whimpering,” and “I don’t want to hear excuses.” If we hear things like that perhaps we should ask, “Is there room for some compassion here?”
There are real ways we can bring compassion to the workplace - we just need to commit ourselves to act. What are the rewards? Not much - just a healthy, committed and dedicated workforce. Who can ask for more? Try a little compassion next time you're faced with a difficult problem - it just may surprise you.
What to do: Try something different in your workplace. Consider forgiveness, love and compassion as cornerstones for positive interaction; it may just change your organizational culture for the better. We would be hard pressed to deal with “forgiveness” and “compassion” without the “love choice. That is why I have placed love between the two – we can’t have the two without the one. Can we really express these words in action independently of each other?
Want to learn more?
Books that may help: James C. Hunter, “The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle,” Greg Baer M.D. "Real Love in the Workplace," Karen Armstrong, "Compassionate Life," and a very light read by various authors “ Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work.”
Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC, Up-dated from Fontanie Learning Solutions
Image from: Royaltyfree/corbis