Forgive and Forget is the way I have always heard it.  But is that the best approach when you are trying to build trust in a workplace relationship, or anywhere for that matter?

The previous example of forgiveness, taken from the tragic Nickel Mines shooting, could never be put in the “forgive and forget” category.  We need to remember events like this so we can work on preventing similar occurrences in the future.  So to with workplace situations where something is said or done that destroys trust and breaks relationships.  Forgiveness is essential to rebuild trust - but so is remembering.

I came to this conclusion years ago after reading a short, powerful book entitled Don’t Forgive Too Soon - Extending the Two Hands that Heal by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn.  It was the first time I began to understand the journey aspect of forgiveness.  I think it has great application to workplace trust.

The basic concept in the two hands of forgiveness goes like this:

The first hand says to the oppressor, “you can’t do this to me anymore”.  Visualize holding out your arm, almost pushing the other person away.  With this hand you are standing up for yourself and beginning the healing process.  This is where the remembering comes in.  You have decided to move on, to begin the journey but letting the other person know how you feel and that you value yourself enough to make sure you are not hurt the same way again.

And now the second hand.  This is the hand that invites the other person into relationship again.  This is the hand that says “you are better than this”.  Again, this is part of the journey since you have to believe that there is good in everyone. Without this belief you will never be able to truly forgive.

Using both of these hands together you begin your journey.  You have stood up for yourself but not built a wall around yourself.  There is room now to rebuild the relationship.

It has been said that holding a grudge, never forgiving, hurts us more than the person who perpetrated the initial act.  In fact, I have seen many instances of the perpetrator not even being aware that they said or did something to someone that was hurtful.  As Catherine Ponder put it:

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel”.

And in this state there is no chance of rebuilding a relationship. In an earlier post I referenced a statement on forgiveness from Martin Luther King:

"Trust doesn’t have to be immediate, but the wrong act is no longer a barrier to a relationship. The offender endures his season of shame and is better for it. The offended are free from mean emotions like vengeance and are uplifted when they offer kindness. The social fabric is repaired. Community solidarity is strengthened by the reunion."

I believe this is what we are looking for.  King's statement could easily be seen as offering the two hands that heal.


“Forgiveness is a choice followed by a journey”

- Father of child killed at the West Nickel Mines Schoolhouse October 2, 2006

I am writing this on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the tragic Nickel Mines shooting. On that day Charles Carl Roberts IV shot 10 Amish school girls and then shot himself.  Five of the girls died.  Obviously this is a extreme example upon which to start a discussion around forgiveness.  But it is often within the extreme we find wisdom which can inform the more mundane instances of human interactions.

In our work with teams we often find communication problems which are rooted in some occurrence, often years earlier, in which one person said or did something to another person that was hurtful in some way.  From that point on the relationship became toxic and communication ceased to be productive.  Now we arrive and bring the team together for a team-building session of some type.  In the course of that meeting we discover the relationship issue.  What to do?

First, let me say we are not licensed therapists.  But we do know something about work relationships.  Which brings me back to Nickel Mines.

What rocked the world during that fateful time was the response of the Amish families who had children in that schoolhouse.  Within 24 hours of the shooting, a group of Amish men descended upon the home of Roberts.  His wife watched them approach her house as her father went out to meet them.  She soon saw them reach out to her father with open arms expressing their shared sorrow and offering their forgiveness.  How could they do such a thing?  That was the question on the minds of those outside the Amish community.  But, if you were a member of the Amish community you understood.  For their culture sees forgiveness as essential.  Forgiving others is the only way you will receive forgiveness from God.

I don’t bring this up as a theological message but, rather, to dig a bit deeper into the concept of forgiveness.  We have seen too many instances in work relationships (and family relationships) where forgiveness was not an option and relationships were destroyed over seemingly insignificant words or deeds.  This made me wonder why we don’t speak of forgiveness in the work world.  Why there has been little, if any, training for team leaders or team members on the subject.  Why we often find ourselves in the middle of a relationship crisis when working with teams and how quickly the team becomes productive once one team member leaves.

To quote the Amish father again, “forgiveness is a choice followed by a journey”.  Perhaps that is the key to bringing forgiveness into the workplace.  Seeing it as a choice, difficult as it may be, but not the end of the story.  I think too often we see forgiveness as something that is a once and done action and we are often not ready for that difficult task.  Whatever happened hurt us too much to just say “I forgive you” and then move on.  It is the “move on” piece that has to be addressed in our work relationships.  As the Amish father says, forgiveness is “followed by a journey”.   Ten years after the Nickel Mines shooting the families involved on both sides of the shooter are still on that journey.  For them it will never end since it was such a tragic event.  In the workplace, the journey is often much shorter.  But only if it begins.

Perhaps another point to ponder regarding the Amish community’s emphasis on forgiveness is the word “community”.  In a book that quickly followed the Nickel Mines tragedy, Amish Grace, the authors point to a significant difference between Amish culture and contemporary American culture - “individualism”.  They say:

Contemporary American culture tends to accent individual rights - freedoms, preferences, and creativity.  In contrast, the core value of Amish culture is community. 

Getting back to that choice. In our individualistic culture could it be that one of the barriers to forgiveness is the feeling that the perceived violation is an affront to our individual rights?  And, could another key to bringing forgiveness into the workplace be the development of a stronger sense of community - developing a culture in which the journey following the choice to forgive is supported by everyone on the team?


Starting with Respect

“Friendship- my definition- is built on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don't have trust, the friendship will crumble."

(Mikael Blomkvist)” 

Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I found this quote on the Goodreads website this morning and began to think about the relationship between respect and trust. I like what Stieg Larsson is saying here since we do a lot of work with teams using the DiSC Model of Behavior and always make the point that respecting the behavioral differences found in work teams is key to enhancing team performance. Is it possible that this is also a good place to start when helping teams build trust among the team members? Obvously he is separating the two elements in this quote but I think there is a relationship.

This quote also raises the question about having friends at work. How far should you go in developing workplace friendships? For example, a CNN article titled,"Are your friends at work hurting your career", suggests caution in this regard while a more recent Fortune article takes the oposite view:

Recent research finds that people who initiate office friendships, pick up slack for their co-workers, and organize workplace social activities are 40% more likely to get a promotion in the subsequent two years. "How much you give at work directly affects how much you get at work," says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

In his research, Achor divides individuals into quartiles based on how much they provide this kind of social support to colleagues. Work altruists, the top 25%, give the most, while work isolators, the bottom 25%, provide the least. Work altruists report significantly higher job satisfaction and feel 10 times more engaged by work than people in the lowest quartile.

Even before the positive psychology movement picked up on this principle, Tom Rath, in Vital Friends, used extensive data to show that having a best friend at work is strongly correlated with increased productivity, positive engagement with customers, innovation and loyalty.

So, could there be a strong link between friendship at work and workplace trust? And, does it all begin with respecting the differences in others? If so, what is the best way to help people respect each other? Once again I believe using DiSC instruments can go a long way in this regard.