The “F” Word

May 8, 2007

It’s one of those dirty words, particularly in the workplace. I’m talking about forgiveness. It’s a dirty thing, but someone has to do it.

Alexander Kjerulf (The Chief Happiness Officer) recently interviewed Stephanie Sarah Warner, an undergraduate at Luthern Luther College, about her research on workplace forgiveness. Somehow, it’s not surprising that she found the following:

Apparently, revenge creates stress and lowers productivity, whereas a culture of forgiveness makes a company more efficient and more profitable.

How many people can relate to that even in their personal lives? Because we spend more of our waking lives at work, a place where a lot of people don’t want to be, the need to forgive in the workplace arises often. In fact, it’s easy to turn to revenge and rumor spreading instead:

27% of all harassment and discrimination claims currently filed contain a claim for retaliation (source)

Carmine at Slow Leadership makes the point that nobody’s perfect:

Everyone fails sometimes. The only way that you can produce and maintain an appearance of constant success is by lying and cheating to cover up your true blemishes.

We are covering up the fact that we’re human if the workplace culture does not allow room to fail and forgive. What’s worse, it also leads to a lack of productivity (and high blood pressure). So, what can we do from here? How can you create a workplace culture of forgiveness?

1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. (Covey) It’s really amazing how often people’s personal lives affect work–that’s just part of being human. Often times, I’ve found that tensions at work are a result of a personal ordeal the person is going through (like a divorce, a hard breakup, or serious illness).

2. Allow your co-workers, and particularly reports, to make mistakes. I spoke with a woman in HR recently who said that the “best managers were those that allowed their reports to make mistakes.” Of course correct them on how to do things correctly, but don’t berate them and make them feel less than human.

3. Actively recognize and appreciate those who have helped you. This can prevent a situation where forgiveness is needed. How many times have you been on the road and someone has cut you off–but, just before you go into a fit of rage, the driver waves his/her hand at you to recognize you, apologize, and thank you? I know for me that bit of acknowledgment and appreciation melts away the need to forgive because I no longer feel wronged.

Remember to err is human, but to forgive is divine!


I was listening to a great podcast by Anna Farmery at the Engaging Brand with Mike Sansone as a guest. He spoke about how corporate blogging could improve motivation and cross functional communication. At one point he said that infamous phrase:

“those marketing folks”

I had to let out a giggle because we would say that all the time at my last company. I had no idea who was in marketing, but they affected my sometimes painful life oh so greatly. Requirements would flow through them, usability would flow through them, and they marketed our product after release–but I did not know anyone in marketing. Late at night, trying to sort out a complicated interaction to fulfill a requirement, I’d shake my fists in the air and say:

“those marketing folks”

Sure, it was easy to blame them because they were faceless, and it was late at night =)

We at Worksona try to give everyone faces to everyone and help relationships within the company. So now when you say “those marketing folks,” you’ll know which ones.

…oh and one more thing: you can find all the great benefits of having a “corporate social network” on Worksona! =)


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