How Forgiveness Relates to Performance

“Send them thoughts of loving kindness.”

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear when I approached my meditation teacher to ask how I should cope with someone in my life who was causing myself and my colleagues anguish.

silhouette photo of monk holding umbrella
Photo by nhan thai on

I was on one of my regular meditation retreats and was struggling at the time as I was working for a manager who had done some extremely unethical things.

I try to keep things positive so I won’t go into it, but let’s just say I was in no mood to send them “thoughts of loving kindness.”

It would take me years to figure out that my teacher was telling me to forgive this person for my sake and not for theirs.

There’s a Buddhist quote that teaches us:

“The inability to forgive is like swallowing poison and hoping someone else will die.” 

I now get it.

As a coach who works with corporations across many different geographies, markets and disciplines let me tell you that, the inability to forgive impacts bottom line results.

Employees who are unwilling to forgive their managers and colleagues for making mistakes (let’s face it, we all make mistakes) are more likely to be miserable at work.

Miserable people produce poorer quality work and have a negative impact on culture. 

According to our research there is a correlation between employees who are happy at work and productivity and the ability to achieve personal and professional goals.

Relationship issues at senior levels can have a severe impact upon results, and by severe, I mean that it can close the doors forever.

In short, when we can’t forgive, we lose focus and are led by fear. 

We make poor decisions, and stop focusing on the customer and forget that the work we do can make a significant difference to others.

Consider the following evidence:

  • In our 2015 Productivity Research, we discovered that 70% of Australians are unhappy at work. Employees who said they were unhappy at work were 30% more likely to have relationship issues with their direct manager leading to poor communication and a lack of productivity.
  • Unhappy employees were also more likely to be distracted by matters that didn’t have an impact on long-term results, to procrastinate and let their time be wasted by small and insignificant issues.
  • Gallup research tells us that managers who only focus on employee weaknesses are likely to be actively disengaging 2 in 10 employees. Managers who ignore their employees are likely to disengage 4 in 10 employees, whereas, managers who focus on strengths are only likely to disengage 1 in 100 employees.
  • Holding a grudge produces cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and diminishes oxytocin (the “love hormone”). This leads to higher blood pressure and activates the “fight or flight” stress response of your sympathetic nervous system that causes cortisol levels to spike.

So, how do you act on this new business-related skill of forgiveness? 

Here are four things that work for me:

1. Question alignment with your goals

Before you move into “fight” mode, reflect upon the issue at hand. Does it relate to your priorities?

That old saying, “pick your battles” is a truism.

Often, we find ourselves arguing over points that don’t impact our high value goals and activities.

We will find ourselves distracted on a distraction that doesn’t really matter and before we know it, we are invested in issues that we shouldn’t be.

If the issue you’re facing does relate to your high value goals, take a moment to strategise the best approach before going into battle (refer to points 2 and 3).

2. Ask for the other person’s point of view

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say something like “if you’ve walked a day in another man’s shoes” and then they go on to say “except my boss, he’s actually evil…”

When I am working with two people to resolve an issue, my first question of each party is “do you understand the other person’s point of view?”

I recommend reading Steven Covey’s book “The Third Alternative” which suggests that in any negotiation there is always a third solution which meets the needs of both parties.

Covey argues that when we come into a disagreement’s thinking there are only two solutions, we limit our ability to reach a resolution and of course whatever solution is reached is win/lose.

  • Before reacting to an issue take the time to ask for the other person’s point of view.What are they trying to achieve?
  • Why do they feel their solution is best?
  • What are the reasons for the actions they’ve taken?
  • What’s their definition of success?

It’s usually in listening, not talking, that we find win/win solutions and we learn the many challenges our fellow man (and woman) faces.

3. “I forgive you, I forgive myself”

I repeat this little mantra whenever anyone annoys me.

What I’ve noticed is that I can get equally annoyed at the person on the tram that doesn’t get off their seat for a pregnant passenger, as I am towards the criminals gracing the morning news.

I have also noticed that every time I identify something someone has done wrong, I can reflect upon my own behaviour and identify how I may have hurt someone else in a similar way.

So, when someone annoys me I say this silent mantra to recognise that in learning to forgive others I’m really forgiving myself. I’m also learning about parts of myself that I may need to change.

By learning to be kinder to myself, I can better serve others through kindness.

Yogis’ often say the mantra “Namaste” at the start and end of a yoga session which most people understand to mean:

“I bow to the light in you which is like the light in me,”

My yoga teacher always taught me to understand Namaste to mean:

““I bow to the light in you which is like the light in me, and I bow to the darkness in you, which is like the darkness in me.”

None of us are perfect, and when we learn to forgive each other for a lack of perfection, we move forward and achieve greater outcomes.

I am seeing a real change in the business world. We are starting to lead from the heart. We are seeing that we impact not just our small patches of the world, but the world itself.

Next time someone upsets you, or gets under your goat, consider sending them thoughts of loving kindness.

By learning to forgive we learn how to better serve others. It’s not easy. Actually, it’s a process and something that we practice over and over again.

The simple fact is that we produce better outcomes when we learn to be forgiving.

We also become better parents, friends, family members and members of the community.

Keep moving forward and let us know how you’re going!



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