When we harbor negative emotions, the only person who suffers is us. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Rob Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, offers tips to learn how to forgive colleagues whose "aggravating or offensive behavior is unlikely to ever change."
According to Carucci, evidence suggests that "emotions associated with unforgiveness — vindictiveness, contempt, hostility, and rage — take severe tolls on our mental and physical health. Worse, they can sour our demeanor, weakening important relationships."
Still, misconceptions about forgiveness can make the process "confusing and complicated," he notes. To better understand forgiveness, Carucci clarifies three common misperceptions:
1. Forgiveness does not restore trust
When you choose to forgive someone, you do not automatically have to trust them again. "When trust has been harmed, it takes time to rebuild," Carucci writes. "The common phrase 'forgive and forget' has compromised our ability to genuinely forgive because forgiveness doesn't erase the past, nor the memories of hurt."
2. Forgiveness does not erase accountability
Sometimes, people feel that forgiving someone who has wronged them will jeopardize their sense of fairness and accountability.
While people need to be held accountable for their behavior, Carucci suggests "that you not take on the burden of being the adjudicator of justice."
3. Forgiveness does not excuse bad behavior
Many people worry that forgiveness unintentionally excuses an offense — and may even encourage the behavior.
"Forgiveness isn't approval. It's simply an acceptance of things outside your control," Carucci writes. "While forgiveness can't change what's happened, taking control of negative emotions instead of letting them control you can change what lies ahead."
These misconceptions can lead to a natural resistance to forgive. According to Carucci, some of the common defenses voiced by people struggling to forgive include:
Once you work through your own misconceptions about forgiveness, Carucci suggests taking four steps to forgive someone whose "aggravating or offensive behavior is unlikely to ever change," which include:
1. Outline your principles of forgiveness
While it may seem basic, Carucci suggests writing down your personal beliefs about forgiveness. In addition, he suggests reflecting on your own experiences receiving forgiveness from others.
2. Distinguish between emotions and choices
Carucci suggests writing down all the emotions you have felt toward whoever wronged you. "It's important that you examine your range of emotions and see these feelings as legitimate, especially if the person's behavior is trespassing on a core value," he notes.
Next, he recommends evaluating how these emotions have influenced your behavior. "It's important to validate your emotions, but also to honestly acknowledge potential counterproductive choices based on those emotions," he notes.
3. Take in the whole picture
It is important to take a step back and consider whether you have evaluated the full story. "It's important to shape a new mindset about the situation and the other person," Carucci writes. "Let go of the labels and be honest about things you might be doing to perpetuate the situation."
4. Forgive — and adjust your behavior
The final step in the forgiveness process involves making a conscious decision to stop harboring negative emotions toward the person who wronged you. In addition, Carucci highlights the importance of forgiving yourself for any role you played in the conflict.
"Intentionally shift your posture by choosing to be more gracious, hospitable, even kind to them," he suggests. "And finally, acknowledge the ways this posture is more aligned with your values."
"Forgiveness is accepting the apology you're never going to receive," said Mark Goulston, a Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches member who coaches entrepreneurs, CEOs, chairs, and managing directors to become the best version of themselves.
Ultimately, forgiveness "may be one of the hardest acts we undertake as human beings," Carucci writes. "It goes against much of what the world has taught us about being strong, standing up for ourselves, and not letting the jerks win. But forgiveness doesn't have to conflict with any of those beliefs — we can stand up for ourselves and forgive." (Carucci, Harvard Business Review, 3/21)
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