Forgiveness—an Essential Business Skill
How’s your forgiveness quotient? When you know how to forgive skillfully, you conserve precious energy that you need to build, manage, and enjoy a thriving business.
Forgiveness is the capacity to let go of our explanations of why and how we’ve been wronged. When we forgive, we’re not saying, “I like what you did and how it affects me.” We’re simply letting go of our explanation of the situation. That leaves us free to make the right choices for ourselves and our businesses without being entangled in dramas that may or may not be true.
We create stories to understand the world, but sometimes our stories bring more confusion than clarity. If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of resentment, letting go of your story will set you free.
Forgiveness is a decision
Maria Nemeth, author of The Energy of Money, writes that forgiveness is a decision to let go of your story about what others have done to you and why. This definition says nothing about liking what is done to you. It simply says that forgiveness is the capacity to let go of your story about it.
Until and unless we develop the capacity to let go of our stories about what other people do to us, we stay locked in a struggle over events that are not in our control. What’s more, this struggle keeps us stuck in time, unable to move forward for as long as we hang onto our stories.
Forgiveness in action
Here’s an example of the practical importance of forgiveness taken from my work as publisher of a weekly ezine.
Each week people subscribe to my newsletter using a double opt-in system. That means that in order to subscribe they must not only sign up but also respond to a confirmation email. This ensures that a third party can’t add folks to the list without their knowledge.
Once people confirm their subscriptions they receive a welcome email from me. In spite of the double-opt-in system, there are always a few people who reply to that welcome email asking to be removed from the list. Sometimes these requests are hostile and rude, accusing me of spamming.
The obvious thing to do at this point is to remove folks from the subscription list, which I do. What’s not so obvious is how to manage my interior response to the requests. What do I do with the feelings that come up when perfect strangers attack me for scheming against their privacy in spite of my best efforts to prevent spamming?
What I’ve learned to do with those feelings is to uncover the story under the feelings and see if I really want to hold onto that story.
You see, I have noticed that between the time when I am feeling fine (before I open my email) and the time that I start feeling angry or fearful, something happens. I’m not talking about reading the email, I’m talking about the story I made up about the email. It’s that story that causes my anger or fear.
In other words, the feelings that arise are not the inevitable result of the content of my emails. There is always an element of participation on my part, and that participation is the story I tell myself to explain things.
A kind rewind
Let’s see if we can recreate a typical situation in slow motion so you can see the point at which I create or release the story that generates my negative feelings.
- Initial context: I’m feeling fine, drinking my morning tea, opening email.
- I open a message and see, “REMOVE ME AT ONCE!!!!” in bold type. I see from the subject line and the email address that this must be in response to a newsletter welcome email.
- The content of the message is clear and simple: it is a request to be removed from my list. It calls for an equally simple response from me: yes, no, or a counter-offer. Because I only want the newsletter to go to voluntary subscribers, there is no confusion about what action to take here. I will comply with the request.
- But wait! How do I feel about this? Isn’t it a little unfair that I, lovely person that I am, should be attacked for spamming someone when I go to considerable effort and expense to avoid that very thing? I spend a minute or two debating whether to write a note explaining that I never spam and that they signed up for this newsletter that they seem not to want.
It’s easy to see where the trouble begins.
The trouble begins in step four when I start spinning a story about how unfair this is. I don’t need that story in order to take care of business. I don’t need it to take care of myself. I am not in danger. All I need is to comply with the request I received. I do not need to interpret the capital letters and the exclamation marks as personal attacks. They may be attacks; they may not be. But unless there is a clear business purpose for figuring that out, I don’t need to go there.
It’s easy, too, to see what a story about unfairness can cost me. It can cost time in feeling sorry for myself. I might spend time trying to justify myself. I might complain to others. I may find that even when I am not actually thinking about this, it is eating at me, stealing the joy from my work and replacing it with an edgy resentment.
We forgive by choosing to let go of our stories.
So I choose to forgive the folks who send me rude emails. You may object that I do need to take spam complaints seriously, and you would be correct. But how does spinning a story about being unfairly attacked improve my ability to prevent accidental spam? How does spinning a story convince someone who forgot they signed up for my newsletter that they made a mistake? How does getting angry and defensive improve my ability to serve?
We’re always better off when we practice the fine art of forgiveness and let go of our painful stories. This frees up tremendous amounts of energy that we can focus on creating what we want instead of defending against what we fear.
Six steps to skillful forgiveness
Here are six simple steps you can use to identify and interrupt the stories that get in the way of going about your business peacefully and productively. The more you practice these steps, the more effective they will be. It is not necessary to want to get rid of your story, it is only necessary to do the steps and see what happens.
- Notice and name the feeling or feelings (disappointment, anger, fear, resentment, etc.).
- Complete the following sentence for each feeling:
- “I’m feeling ________ because _______________ .”
- The “because” part of your sentence is your story. What would happen if you let go of this story?
- If you are not willing to let go of the story right now, ask yourself if you can imagine letting go of the story at some time in the future.
- Live with your choice, knowing that it is a choice, and being willing to notice the costs and consequences of your decision.
These steps are a way of learning from your experience. In very little time you’ll discover for yourself that the costs of holding onto your story are much greater than the costs of forgiveness. You won’t have to force yourself to forgive; you’ll find that it becomes the preferred option.
Editor: Brianna Bemel
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