8 Things to Remember About Forgiveness at Work
By Phil Jackman
This article was first published in the Winter 2013 issue of MOVE Magazine.
The workplace can be a place of unforgiveness, eating away at our person and productivity. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Forgiveness is not making someone pay when we are wronged. It cancels the debt they owe us to right that wrong.
For Christians, experiencing the forgiveness we have received from God is part of our journey towards offering mercy and forgiveness to others. But how can our places of work develop a culture of forgiveness? What does this look like practically?
1. Forgiveness does not deny the past
Forgiveness is not pretending that nothing happened. Cancelling debt is changing our attitude to the past, so that we are no longer bitter or resentful. Then we can make changes in our behaviour that are best both for us and for the one who has hurt us.
2. Forgiveness does not deny feelings
It’s okay to be angry. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesian church, “be angry, but don’t miss the mark,” (4:26) where presumably the mark is love. Although we might forget an offence over time, it is important not to force it from our mind or deny its impact on us.
3. Forgiveness does not deny time
Forgiveness is a journey, and not usually a quick-fix. Since change takes time, whether in attitude or feelings, cancelling debt is a process. It begins with the choice not to make the other pay and ends with a feeling. It is a choice to invite change. It is other-centred. Asking someone, “Do you forgive them?” is not always the right question. At what stage of the process do you verbalise forgiveness? Not being able to say that you forgive does not necessarily mean that you are not on the journey of forgiveness.
4. Forgiveness does not deny our own short-comings
It is dangerous to blame others for everything rather than to take responsibility for what we have done wrong. As we work through the process of forgiving someone else, it is important to know whether we need to receive forgiveness. This requires humility.
5. Forgiveness does not deny justice
Forgiveness should invite the person to be made right. But this only makes sense if there is agreement about the offence in the first place. Forgiving a colleague for not meeting a deadline requires mutual agreement about that deadline. Otherwise, verbalising forgiveness might not go down too well. Sometimes it is better to silently forgive if no agreement can be reached.
6. Forgiveness does not deny boundaries
Cancelling a debt does not mean that a relationship has to return to what it was before. Clearer boundaries may have to be put in place. This is not possible if we pretend that nothing has happened.
7. Forgiveness does not deny community
Although forgiving might let go of a (perceived) wrong, it cannot in itself restore a healthy working relationship. Re-building trust and developing boundaries requires work and may require help from the people around us.
8. Forgiveness can lead to peace
Peace is best understood by the Hebrew word shalom as having to do with healthy, restful relationships, even if we need to work issues through within those relationships. Peace, in other words, is more than resolving conflict. It results from reconciliation, which requires that both parties cancel debt, rebuild trust, and are willing to resolve conflict. A resolution does not have to be fully reached for there to be peace.
This article has been adapted from the Habits of the Heart course, used with permission.