Thriving at Work through Forgiveness

         By Deborah Welch, Ph.D.






We live in a world in which everywhere we look, on television, Internet, and in the newspapers, we see cynicism, blame, rumors and conflict.  We can find alternative stories about caring, courage, and resilience if we look for them.  And I do continuously look for these kinds of stories because I have learned after 25 years working on my own growth, and coaching others, that stories of defining moments, where we go through the fires of a difficult time and learn more about who we are and what we value can help us see our way through complex situations.  Stories can speak to us in ways that help us see who we are and what our possibilities can be.   

Right now you might find yourself encountering unexpected suffering or pain.  You may have your back up against the wall or be struggling with some unanticipated pain or hard edge in life.  In this article I would like to share a story of forgiveness and then invite you to consider your own story.  Perhaps there was an instance when you chose an attitude of forgiveness and it made a difference, or perhaps a time that someone offered you forgiveness when it mattered most.  Consider how an attitude of forgiveness can have a transforming effect in our lives.  
I once worked for a new boss who appeared to do nothing but try to torpedo my authority as I was learning the ropes of a new job as an agency mid-level manager.  I heard from my staff that my boss was speaking in derogatory ways about my every step, and two women reported that he was making inappropriate sexual advances towards them.   As I mulled over a confrontation with him, I could think of several ways that any kind of conversation could go very badly.  I could become a target or lose my job.  However, I couldn’t allow this to continue.  So, a few days later I found myself sitting across from him at his huge desk.   His eyes shifted back and forth; from glaring at me to looking into the distance above his glasses.  Our conversation went back and forth, just as his eyes did, resulting in no real communication. 

A few days later I reached out to our CEO for guidance.  I was encouraged to try again and “be more direct in the conversation.”   My internal dialogue was spinning with questions like, “How can this conversation possibly be any different than it was the last time?  I have no reason to trust him.”   

After a long night I woke up and realized that the anger and fear I was living in were not serving anyone.  I was stuck in a victim story.   My mentor, Edith, used to say; “How long would you like to continue to carry this burden?”  So I asked myself, “How can I be my best self in this situation?”  There was no apparent easy answer.  But one thing I know to do when tied up in a knot is to use a forgiveness process.  I work on getting as calm as I can.  Edith Stauffer would remind me, “There is a place in you where nothing disturbs your peace.  With forgiveness you rest in that place.”   I started by thinking of Edith, since she is a wisdom figure in my life; someone who is very loving and wise.  In a moment I could see the whole thing through her eyes as if I was witnessing it from a mountaintop. I began to breathe a sigh of relief.  I could see that I had been expecting and demanding that my boss be supportive of me and our team, but the more I built a case against him, the more entrenched our differences had become.  Looking at the situation from a new more open perspective the anger began to melt away.  I thought of how in spite of everything there were still things I valued about my boss.  Choosing an attitude of forgiveness meant I let go of my expectations about him, and myself, and how this could all resolve.  I searched for wisdom.  I felt a degree of peace, which told me I had made progress in finding a spirit of forgiveness. 

Dynamic Living Magazine Issue Vol. 3  May/June 2011 continued on next page