Although there are many compelling reasons to forgive others, the reality is that most people, even when they grasp the intellectual rationale for doing so, struggle to forgive consistently. Forgiving others, especially when the person we feel has wronged us has not actually asked for forgiveness, is an internal choice that cannot be coerced. It is important to acknowledge how difficult it can be to forgive others so we can fully appreciate the significance.
It is suggested that the typical person will invest about 90,000 hours of their lives at work. Based upon the sheer number of interactions we have with others, it is impossible that we will not say or do something that we regret. I have yet to meet someone who has worked for any length of time who does not know the instant regret of talking about a coworker or the pain of being lied to by a colleague.
Due to the complexity of the concept, I will focus my thoughts on what to do when you have made a mistake and are seeking to reconcile with those you have wronged. As a former mediator, former professor of the psychology of conflict, and a human who has made my fair share of mistakes, I have found that many of the deepest hurts we inflict on one another are related more to how we deal with the mistake than the mistake itself. To create a culture where forgiveness can be granted requires being willing to ask for it.
Four Steps to Forgiveness
- Be Realistic. Making bad choices is a reality of life. Sometimes we make mistakes without realizing. Other times, we are very conscious we are crossing the line. Often "good" people are the least likely to ask for forgiveness because they believe others will lose faith in them if they make mistakes. A more realistic view is that we are not as defined by our mistakes as we are by what we do when we have made one.
- Take the first step. One of the greatest challenges of rebuilding trust is keeping the lines of communication open. When you have wronged someone, ask for an opportunity to talk with them. Take the first step by connecting and letting them know you would like to ask for forgiveness. If they are not ready, you cannot force the meeting. Be patient.
- Ask. I found that when I made mistakes, I would often express regret but would normally stop short of asking for forgiveness. I have changed my approach based upon my work with Character Core. The reason I ask for forgiveness is because I am not simply letting them know I am sorry, I also desire forgiveness.
- Make it right. Asking what you can do to make something right is not the same as agreeing to do what is asked of you. With that said, if you have wronged someone and can make it right, I am assuming you would want to do what is possible.
Even though forgiving others can be tough, there is reason for hope. It gets easier. In fact, one of the byproducts of applying the Character Core system to your life is a greater sensitivity to the challenges we all face. As a leader, your willingness to forgive and ask for forgiveness sets the tone.