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  • Tamar Balkin

Will Fostering A Culture Of Forgiveness Improve Workplace Wellbeing?

"It's sad, so sad

It's a sad, sad situation

And it's gettin' more and more absurd

It's sad, so sad

Why can't we talk it over?

Ohh, it seems to me that sorry seems to be the hardest word ”

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word by Elton John (click here for the music)



Thank you Eric Barker for sharing this fabulous quote on your Instagram page


Many of my Australian clients are feeling the strain of the extended lockdowns and are reflecting that staff and colleagues are unintentionally making mistakes in both words and deeds. When left to fester such mistakes can have long term negative consequences to relationships. Regular readers would know that when we are tired stressed or bored the dark side of our personalities emerge. Researchers found that unfortunately, the strong human tendency to enact revenge or avoid people who harm us, may still occur even if the perception of harm may be incorrect. Revenge causes a cycle of vengeance to others, avoidance is corrosive to oneself. In addition, grudge holding, and anger are not conducive to individual wellbeing, collaboration, creativity productivity or general happiness.

"A wise man told me that holdin' a grudge is like Lettin' somebody just live inside of your head rent free"

Detroit Vs. Everybody by Eminem

When times are tough, and we are unprepared there is a disconnect between what our instincts draw us to do and what we know would make the world a better place.

“Why let the wrong that happened to you effect you any longer than it should”

Baran, and Everett

So what is forgiveness?

“You tell me that you're sorry Didn't think I'd turn around and say That it's too late to apologize, it's too late I said it's too late to apologize, it's too late Too late, oh”

Apologize by Timbaland (click here for the music)

Forgiveness is “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behaviour toward one who unjust injured us while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love toward him or her” (Enright) Central to this definition is that to forgive one should be able to separate offending persons from their behaviour, to see them as fully human and their actions as part of the human condition, without condoning those actions.


Researchers have proposed that forgiveness has both emotional and behavioural elements. When we decide to forgive, we choose to try to act differently toward the offender and, not seeking payback, treating the person as a valuable and valued person. Emotional forgiveness is generally the gradual replacement of unforgiving emotions like resentment, bitterness, or anger with positive other-oriented emotions like empathy or compassion for the offender. Whilst both are required for true forgiveness, the reality may seem different. For example, we may choose to tell people we forgive them, even if we are still angry inside. Or, we may not be angry anymore, but we will avoid telling the offending person, so they don't think they have a license to walk all over us. According to Enright one of the main researchers in this area there are 4 phases to forgiveness:

  • Uncovering one's negative feelings about the offence,

  • Deciding to forgive,

  • Working toward understanding the offending person,

  • And discovering empathy and compassion for him or her.

The last step, compassionate reappraisal is the most difficult as it recognises that the victim is in a unique position to see the offence as evidence of the offender’s need for learning, growth, change, and/or healing.

“True forgiveness goes a step further, offering something positive—empathy, compassion, understanding—toward the person who hurt you."

Bob Enright

What is the downside of not forgiving? Regular readers would be aware of the multitude of benefits of stable long-term relationships to our physical and mental health. Thus, where there are damages to interpersonal relationships and there is no forgiveness but rather anger and avoidance the following issues arise:

  • Elevated blood pressure, heart rate, or cortisol.

  • Stress-related

  • Poor Mental health

  • Elevated cardiovascular risk

  • Problems in the digestive, immune, respiratory, and sexual-reproductive systems;

  • Damage to the hippocampus and other brain structures

  • Poor lifestyle choices like too much drinking or medication

  • Rumination

  • Weakening of social ties, which can exacerbate all of the above

  • Increase in interpersonal conflict

  • Reduction in collaboration

What can a leader do?

  • Be intentional about your moral reasoning before things go wrong

  • Realise you have the capacity to forgive

  • Discuss and practice forgiveness

  • Live your values and set the example for others.

  • If the prevailing culture involves backstabbing and holding grudges take the initiative and set the example.

  • When someone does you wrong remember to talk about it in a productive way with others.

  • Identify the paths towards repairing the relationships in your team, and beyond

Final thoughts:

"Forgiveness allows you to let go of the chronic interpersonal stressors that cause us undue burden."

Toussaint Whilst you you can’t always pick your stakeholders and colleagues; you can choose how you behave towards them and ensure the creation of collaborative alliances. Social psychologists found that a team can create a norm of positive reciprocity whereby people return favours and other acts of kindness, without worrying about the approval or disapproval of others. Returning an act of kindness, such as forgiveness can generate a sense of self-satisfaction in the individual and serve to mitigate against the cycle of vengeance and avoidance. So, take a moment and reflect upon who you need to forgive, and how you will forgive them.

"Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze It means no worries For the rest of your days It's our problem-free philosophy Hakuna Matata!"

Hakuna Matata by Elton John and Tim Rice (click here for the music) (click here for the youtube)


References: (n.d.). The Indigo Podcast: On the Science of Forgiveness and Why it Matters. [online] Available at: Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health. (n.d.). [online] Available at: McNulty, J. K., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). Beyond positive psychology? Toward a contextual view of psychological processes and well-being. American Psychologist, 67(2), 101-110. ‌Burger, J.M., Sanchez, J., Imberi, J.E. and Grande, L.R. (2009). The norm of reciprocity as an internalized social norm: Returning favors even when no one finds out. Social Influence, 4(1), pp.11–17. Greater Good. (n.d.). Research on the Science of Forgiveness: An Annotated Bibliography. [online] Available at: The Science of Forgiveness April 2020 Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D. Department of Psychology Virginia Commonwealth University Enright, R., Rique, J., Lustosa, R., Song, J.Y., Komoski, M.C., Batool, I., Bolt, D., Sung, H., Huang, S.T.T., Park, Y., Leer-Salvesen, P.E., Andrade, T., Naeem, A., Viray, J. and Costuna, E. (2021). Validating the Enright Forgiveness Inventory – 30 (EFI-30). European Journal of Psychological Assessment. [online] Available at: Witvliet, C.V.O., Hofelich Mohr, A.J., Hinman, N. G., Knoll, R. W. (2015). Transforming or restraining rumination: The impact of compassionate reappraisal versus emotion suppression on empathy, forgiveness, and affective psychophysiology. Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 248-261. Strelan, P. and Callisto, J. (2020). Good outcomes are more likely for me than you—Especially in a just world. Personality and Individual Differences, 163, p.110033.

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