The Christmas season is the perfect time to think about Forgiveness. Forgiveness is the true meaning of Christmas and whether you celebrate the religious meaning behind Christmas and Hanukkah, or you celebrate the holiday as a family and work tradition, this is the perfect time as a team to reflect on forgiveness.
In my 30 years of working with teams I often spend time observing the interactions and dynamics of people working together. One of the least prevalent interactions I have witnessed is people on teams saying “I’m sorry” or “thanks for acknowledging that your interaction was hurtful. I forgive you”.
Interactive conflict at work is linked to absenteeism, lowered productivity, stress, physical and mental health issues. I have asked thousands of teams over the years these three questions “How often do you hear your team mates apologize?” “how often do you hear words of forgiveness?”and “are there missed opportunities?”. Almost always the three answers are “hardly ever”, “rarely” and “multiple times a day”.
The problem is that too many people are afraid to have these conversations, Their Ego won’t allow it or it is seen as a philosophical, psychological or religious principle that is “inappropriate” to discuss at work. Many organizations make it worse by using “safe” information against team members even though they preach open, safe, dialogue and even teach it!
In his book “Trusting You are Loved”, Epstein 1999 wrote: “We are by forgiving, in essence granting complete absolution and redemption. We relinquish the right to punish, cling to resentments, and hold grudges. We give ourselves and each other permission to move on, free of baggage and history, able to progress without the burdens of the past. Forgiveness fosters our wellbeing when we know that no matter what happens, we will forgive and be forgiven. In an environment of love and forgiveness, we thrive”.
If we fail to realize that by not openly forgiving our teammates for minor and major transgressions we pay a profound price. We lose, as a team, our ability to appreciate the strengths and awesome qualities of each other. Our discretionary effort is reduced, our health and wellness becomes threatened and we lose our ability to be fully present and focused on work issues. We then take this stress home with us and negatively inject this stress into those relationships and conversations. Many times people feel safer to vent their frustrations with people outside the team. This leads to distrust by others and questions about the teams ability to manage itself and its affairs.
So what can we do? Here are 6 proven strategies
1. Be the first. If no one on your team is practicing forgiveness, be the first. as people witness the power of forgiveness it grows in their hearts as well.
2. Create a team environment that is safe. Not feels safe, but is actually safe. A place where teammates are free to share and ask for help. Just one negative action by the leader can throw safety out the door.
3. Use Forgiving language and eye contact as a team. Look at each other and say things like “Thanks for letting me know”, “I understand”, “I apologize” “Thanks for talking with me about your concerns” “You are forgiven, no worries”.
4. Acknowledge anger and resentment but own your perceptions of the situation. Be respectful and use “I” statements. Separate facts from perceptions. Listen..
5. Make owning and forgiving a part of your teams discussions. When it is structured and practiced it becomes part of the teams culture “I need to apologize to Sara for not letting her know my progress on the work she needed” “I need to let the team know that I have had some resentments over how we made a decision and I would like to clear the air and move past them”
6. Team Development interventions. Sometimes the problems within the team can get out of hand and the team members no longer trust the intent of each other. Even a sincere apology can be filtered by mistrust and not believed. In these cases outside expertise can be very helpful. A good expert can help the team by being a neutral party with no agenda other than helping the team get un-stuck.
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