Learn to apologize and forgive

In the last three posts, I stated that for true teamwork to occur, people have to learn three fundamental rules of effective human interaction: you must keep your files empty; you must learn to communicate appropriately; and you must learn to make it safe for the people in your life to communicate to you. When files are empty, what’s present is openness, intimacy and trust, the hallmarks of nurturing relationships.

Last week I discussed the third rule: making it safe for the people in your life to communicate to you. Here’s the end of the story.

After everyone has “emptied their files,” as discussed last week, the next step is to apologize. It’s really remarkable how difficult it seems to be for so many people just to apologize. The reason behind this is that most think an apology is an admission that they have done something “wrong,” and, in many cases, it just doesn’t feel that way. After all, it’s the other person’s perception that something hurtful has been done and that might not at all been the guilty parties intention.

The fact of the matter is that an apology is not at all an admission of guilt or wrongdoing. When fully understood, an apology is simply a way to acknowledge the other person’s feelings about the matter they have just communicated. When you apologize, in essence what you are saying is: I acknowledge what you said, I acknowledge what I did or didn’t do, I acknowledge that whatever I did or said or didn’t do had an impact on you, I’m willing to take responsibility, and I request you forgive me. When understood this way, an apology allows the other party to experience that they’ve been heard and opens the door to forgiveness.

So once both parties have apologized to each other for whatever was communicated in the file emptying session, the final step is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a willingness to let go of the anger and hurt, to pardon the other person, to put the past in the past, and to restore the relationship to how it was before the events discussed occurred.

Now you would think that people would be willing to forgive each other for the simple reason that to not do so means that people are quite literally “stuck” with the anger and/or resentment that arose from whatever the event was. But it’s an unfortunate reality of the human condition that far too many people are unwilling to forgive. Being a kind and loving human being is not a high priority for far too many. People seem to feel entitled to their grievances and they actually cherish their negativity.

Studies further show that people seem to feel entitled to make enemies and somehow justify their right to do so. They use the fact that they were wounded in the past to justify wounding others. People simply do not look carefully enough to the consequences of their behavior and this is a big reason why there is so much anger in the world. Please, learn to forgive and let go. You can either be right or happy and the later is so much a better choice!

There are a number of stories of how this works in personal relationships, with management and other teams, and between co-workers in Chapter 14 of Unshackled Leadership. If you still don’t have a copy, you can get yours today at http://www.unshackledleadership.com/online-store/