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Forgiveness as a Workplace Intervention: The Literature and a Proposed Framework

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The purpose of this review is to explore the literature related to interpersonal forgiveness in organizations and its possible implications for management and HRD theory and practice. It defines forgiveness and provides a theoretical framework for its consideration within the workplace environment. It also reviews and discusses the benefits and risks of forgiveness, the role of leadership in a forgiving culture, and the literature regarding related business interventions.
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Forgiveness as a Workplace Intervention: The Literature and a Proposed
Framework
Susan R. Madsen
Janice Gygi
Scott C. Hammond
Utah Valley University
Suzanne F. Plowman
Brigham Young University
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this review is to explore the literature related to interpersonal
forgiveness in organizations and its possible implications for management and HRD
theory and practice. It defines forgiveness and provides a theoretical framework for its
consideration within the workplace environment. It also reviews and discusses the
benefits and risks of forgiveness, the role of leadership in a forgiving culture, and the
literature regarding related business interventions.
Introduction
Improving individual, team and organizational performance is a primary focus of
management and human resource development (HRD). However, only in the past
decade has the literature begun to report specific research on the effects of many of the
psychological and behavioral constructs that influence performance and productivity of
individual employees. In fact, organizational literature in management, organizational
behavior, and other business fields has also done little to address many of these
constructs. Cameron and Caza (2002) stated that only a few researchers (see citations
later in paper for examples) have begun to “investigate dynamics in organizations that
lead to the development of human strength, resiliency, and extraordinary performance”
(p. 33)with forgiveness being one such dynamic.
Within the management literature a few writers have argued that forgiveness is a
construct that is important to address in the workplace environment. According to
Aquino, Grover, Goldman, and Folger (2003), “Forgiveness should be an important
concern of both organizational theorists and practicing managers because it is a way for
individuals to repair damaged workplace relationships and overcome debilitating
thoughts and emotions resulting from interpersonal injury” (p. 210). They argue:
Humans working together have endless opportunities to offend or harm others,
intentionally or unintentionally. An organization is a melee of relationships
alternating between firm and sound, unconnected, sordid, broken and angry, and
changing. The quality of healing broken and changing relationships should
profoundly influence how well an organization functions as well as the nature of
work life within organizations. (p. 214)
Bottom, Gibson, Daniels, and Murnigham (2002) declare effective relationship
management, forgiveness being one important element, is critical to success in
Copyright © 2009 Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management. All Rights Reserved.
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business. Kurzynski (1998) explained that “good working relationships are essential to
organizational effectiveness” (p. 79). The bottom line is that, “other than the family, the
workplace is the most powerful influence on the individual’s life experience” (Butler &
Mullis, 2001, p. 260), yet the importance of forgiveness and its effect on work
performance remains unexplored.
Cameron and Caza (2002) argued that forgiveness is one of the “relatively few universal
human virtues” (p. 36) that all of the world’s major religious traditions believe human
beings should aspire to incorporate in their lives. Forgiveness is a construct that has its
roots in religion. Some construct of forgiveness can be found in all of the world’s major
religions (Smith, 1991). But aside from being theological, every child in a sandbox
learns the practical need for forgiveness as hurt feelings can escalate to eclipse any
advantage of social interaction. We learn early in our lives to move on, to let go and be
socially practical. Beyond the sandbox, the concept of forgiveness has the potential to
be a factor in every major turning point in work life at the individual and organizational
level. A termination, lay off, or reassignment can create a sustained individual hurt that
may affect the rest of a career. A plant closing or organizational change that displaces
or reassigns workers can create similar hurts. However, forgiveness remains “among
the least understood virtues and one of the most difficult to attain” (Cameron & Caza,
2002, p. 37). Hence, understanding the impact and effects of forgiveness (or lack of it)
in the workplace is a complex undertaking.
Purpose, Questions, and Design
The purpose of this review is to explore the literature related to forgiveness, suggest a
framework for its consideration in the workplace, and outline its possible implication for
management and HRD theory and practice. The following questions were investigated:
1) What are definitions and theoretical frameworks of forgiveness in the literature? 2)
What are the benefits and risks in practicing workplace forgiveness? 3) What are
currently used and possible business interventions related to workplace forgiveness?
and 4) How does this information contribute to new knowledge in management and
HRD? This review is a content analysis of scholarly literature located in business,
psychology, education, health, and general academic library databases found within
most library systems. Most was found in the psychology and health indexes, but a few
related articles were located in others. No articles were found in HRD literature, while
only 12 were located in management. The keywords used for the search included
forgive and forgiveness. Among the hundreds of articles located on the topic of
forgiveness, the most applicable manuscripts to the specific focus of this paper were
reviewed in-depth (n=84). Because of length limitations, we used the articles that had
the most relevant findings and could offer the most pertinent management and HRD
implications.
Definitions and Theoretical Framework
Although many authors (e.g., Legaree, Turner, & Lollis, 2007; Orr, Sprague, Goertzen,
Cornock, & Taylor, 2005) have admitted that there is no agreed-upon definition of
Copyright © 2009 Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management. All Rights Reserved.
248
forgiveness, exploring a number of definitions, theories, and models can provide insight
into understanding the construct. Analyzing components of the various definitions of
forgiveness provides the theoretical framework for this content analysis. In this review
we discovered that nearly all definitions or frameworks acknowledged that forgiveness
is not condoning, forgetting, or ignoring a hurtful action; however, as Enright and Coyle
(1998) stated, “In genuine forgiveness, one who has suffered an unjust injury chooses
to abandon his or her right to resentment and retaliation, and instead offers mercy to the
offender” (p. 140). Scobie and Scobie (1998) concur with the elements of the previous
definitions as they define forgiveness as
a conscious decision to set aside one’s legitimate claim for retaliation or
restitution for a damaging act committed by a significant other, in order for any, or
all, of the following to occur: 1) the relationship, or a modified version of the
relationship, to be restored; 2) the negative affects associated with the damaging
act for the forgiver and/or the forgiven to be reduced; 3) the forgiver to cease
playing the role of the victim, and the forgiven to be given the opportunity to
make amends; and 4) the forgiver and the forgiven to gain release from the
dominating effect of the damaging act. (p. 382)
They also noted that this decision is made without “condoning or minimizing the effects
of the damaging act” (p. 382). McCullough, Fincham, and Tsang (2003) summarized the
multiple definitions of forgiveness in this manner:
Despite the obvious differences among such definitions, they share an important
feature the assumption that forgiveness involves prosocial change regarding a
transgressor on the part of the transgression recipient. Indeed, nearly every
theorist appears to concur that when people forgive, their responses (i.e.,
thoughts, feelings, behavioral inclinations, or actual behaviors) toward a
transgressor become more positive and/or less negative. (p. 540)
In fact, McCullough, Pargament, and Thoresen (2000) proposed that a “foundational
and uncontroversial feature of forgiveness” is the “intraindividual prosocial change
toward a transgressor” (McCullough et al., 2003, p. 540).
Two pieces of literature also provide definitions of interpersonal workplace forgiveness
and organizational forgiveness that are geared specifically for discussions of
forgiveness within workplace settings. Aquino, et al. (2003) explained that interpersonal
workplace forgiveness is
a process whereby an employee who perceives himself or herself to have been
the target of a morally injurious offense deliberately attempts to (a) overcome
negative emotions (e.g., resentment, anger, hostility) toward his or her offender
and (b) refrain from causing the offender harm even when he or she believes it is
morally justifiable to do so. (p. 212)
Cameron and Caza (2002) defined organizational forgiveness as
the capacity to foster collective abandonment of justified resentment, bitterness,
and blame, and instead, it is the adoption of positive, forward-looking approaches
in response to harm or damage. Forgiveness in organization requires a
transformation, and an organization becomes virtuous to the extent to which it
encourages, supports and facilitates such transformation. (p. 39)
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They also noted that the motive for individual or collective forgiveness cannot be
instrumental: “Forgiveness in search of reward is not true forgiveness” (p. 39).
In sum, the definitions we have analyzed (some of which were presented here) all have
common elements which provide the theoretical foundation for this paper. These
elements were outlined effectively in Sells and Hargrave (1998). After an in-depth
review of the theoretical and empirical literature on forgiveness, these researchers
found that each forgiveness definition and theory contained the following six threads:
1. There is an injury or violation with subsequent emotional/physical pain.
2. The violation results in a broken/fragmented relationship between parties.
3. Perpetuation of injury is halted.
4. A cognitive process is pursued where the painful event or action is understood or
reframed with a fuller context.
5. There is a release or letting go of justifiable emotion and retaliation related to the
event.
6. There is a renegotiation of the relationship. (p. 28)
Potential Impact of Forgiving
Although the literature addresses the influence of forgiveness on many elements in
one’s life, this section will review the three most applicable to workplace and
organizational performance: physical and mental health (well-being), job performance
and productivity, and organizational issues.
Physical and Mental Health
The psychology and health literature provided a number of connections between
forgiveness and physical health. Evidence suggests that chronic states of unforgiveness
(i.e., anger, hostility, rumination, resentment, and fear) are linked to adverse physical
health outcomes (Cameron & Caza, 2002; McCullough, Bono, & Root, 2007). Lamb
(2005) discussed various studies that found forgiveness is related to higher individual
ratings of physical health, decreased blood pressure, and fewer physician visits.
According to Thoreson, Harris, & Luskin (2000) forgiving responses “buffer ill-health by
decreasing allostatic load and by promoting physiological and psychological healing” (as
cited in Cameron & Caza, 2002, p. 40). In addition, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
newsletter (2005) published an article on reasons to forgive. This article explained that
unforgiveness creates anger, grudges, and feelings of injustice which creates a stress
response and increases levels of stress hormones and increases in blood pressure and
heart rate. When people retain these feelings for a prolonged period, the stress
responses continue resulting in a “toll in their physical and emotional well-being” (p. 1).
The authors report that forgiveness reduces stress, lowers heart disease risk, promotes
healing from pain and illness, increases personal happiness, and improves
interpersonal relationships.
Studies have also reported interesting findings regarding the connection between
forgiveness and improved mental and emotional health (e.g., Anderson, 2007; Butler &
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Mullis, 2001; Legaree et al., 2007; McCullough et al., 2007; Pettigrove, 2007). Lamb
(2005) noted that the stress and hostility that comes from anger are known to be
harmful to both one’s physical and mental health. Scobie and Scobie (1998) stated that
“forgiveness is reported to be a treatment which offers a means to overcome anger,
resentment, the ‘debilitating repletion of negative action’ and to alleviate a persistent
negative state” (p. 374). Forgiveness also lets individuals become “free” from the control
of the offender. Zechmeister, Garcia, Romero, and Vas (2004) reported that forgiveness
was associated with reduced anxiety and depression. Stone (2002) explained that when
employees and managers have an in-depth understanding of the value of forgiveness, it
actually provides opportunities to “use mistakes, failures, flaws and breakdowns of life
as opportunities to awaken greater wisdom, compassion and capability in our co-
workers and ourselves” (p. 279).
Three additional studies provide insight into the value of overall employee well-being.
First, Little, Simmons, and Nelson (2007) examined positive behavior forgiveness and
negative behavior revenge and their influence on an individual’s health. They concluded
that individuals who are more enthusiastic and actively engaged in positive enriching
activities at work are often more healthy. Happy, healthy individuals are not typically
those who are angry and hold grudges against others. Second, Bono and McCullough
(2006) suggested a link between forgiveness and health because it may lead to
“increased optimistic thinking and decreased hopelessness, increased self-efficacy,
higher levels of perceived social and emotional support, and, for some, a greater sense
of transcendent consciousness and communion with God” (p. 149), which ultimately
promotes mental and physical health. Finally, Struthers, Dupuis, and Eaton (2005)
found that interpersonal relationships in the workplace “are sometimes punctuated by a
range of interpersonal offenses that can escalate into more serious damage to, and
intractable conflict in, the relationship” (p. 306). Their research found that forgiveness is
one process that may promote well-being at work.
Job Performance and Productivity
A few researchers have reported the direct and indirect affects of forgiveness on job
performance and productivity at work. Cameron, Bright, and Caza (2002) found that
organizational forgiveness was “significantly associated with productivity after
downsizing as well as lower voluntary employment turnover” (as cited in Cameron et al.,
2002, p. 40). McCullough, Pargament, and Thoreson (2000) studied small organizations
and found that forgiveness was associated with higher morale and satisfaction, greater
social capital, trust, humanness, and caring relationships. This is particularly evident
when an organization has experienced harm or unjust treatment as in cases of
downsizing. Bottom et al. (2002) found that when individuals offer small substantive
offers of penance, the likelihood of future cooperation was substantially enhanced. They
noted these results are particularly pertinent due to the increased need for effective
interpersonal relationships within and among organizations and employees in today’s
complex work environments. Further, forgiveness has been shown to motivate
employees to “extend acts of conciliation and goodwill toward the offender and to
overcome social estrangement” (Aquino et al., 2003, p. 213), which makes the working
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relationship between individuals more effective and productive. Forgiveness is actually
a type of “problem-solving coping strategy in that it reconciles conflicting parties and
salvages the social relationship for future interactions” (p. 213). Butler and Mullis (2001)
conclude that when resentment and other negative feelings between coworkers exist, it
is very difficult to maintain current levels of job performance let alone improve it.
Organizational Issues
Conflicts in the workplace may include situations such as coworkers having minor
disagreements, departments at war with each other, hurtful rumors being spread,
accurate or inaccurate performance appraisals, ethical and legal issues, employment
decisions (e.g., hiring, firing, promotions), lack of support on initiatives or decisions, and
more. Butler and Mullis (2001) noted that “personal offense stemming from norm
violations at the interpersonal level constitutes the greatest number of workplace
conflicts and frequently produces feelings of anger and resentment” (p. 259). The media
writes and speaks of the increase in employee violence and acts of retaliation in
workplaces throughout the country (Aquino et al., 2003). Many employees do not
explore the various choices they have in choosing their reactions. In past years,
companies have not addressed the issues of educating employees regarding coping
mechanisms for a variety of situations. Today organizations are finding that training and
development on a variety of new topics, competencies, and strategies is needed.
Aquino et al. (2003) compared individual reactions to tragedies in the country with
employee reactions to workplace violence and retaliation and stated that “workplace
forgiveness has many of the same cognitive and emotional elements” as forgiveness
does in other settings (p. 210).
The effects of interpersonal conflicts, resentment, hurt, and possible organizational
injury varies based on transgression severity and an individual’s forbearance when an
incident occurs. When individuals forbear, endure, and/or control themselves when
provoked (McCullough et al., 2003) the impact on the organization is lessened. Yet,
“severe transgressions may be difficult to forbear because they can influence the
transgression recipient’s life more profoundly and pervasively” (p. 543). Transgression
severity might also influence forgiveness. Severe transgressions tend to have more
enduring consequences that may even be irreversible in both personal and work
settings.
Unforgiving individuals within an organization and/or an unforgiving organizational
culture in general can result in lower levels of performance at all levels. Davidhizar and
Laurent (2000) found that when managers and leaders failed to forgive employees and
superiors there was a lack of personal and team productivity that led “to aggressive and
passive-aggressive behavior” on the part of the individual (p. 50). Stone (2002) wrote
that the costs of not forgiving have “an enormous impact at each level of a system” (p.
280), because employees separate themselves sometimes leading to ineffective job
performance and/or leaving the organization. An organizational culture that does not
promote forgiveness “will be engaged in negative and destructive politics” (p. 281)
which will eventually decrease an organization’s effectiveness. Hence, Stone believes
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that a forgiving culture improves retention, increases a sense of community, and
“breeds authentic, courageous and open conversations” (p. 285).
Examples of Workplace Forgiveness
Episodes requiring forgiveness in the workplace can range from simple errors that may
cause some difficulty or cost to the firm to major life-changing events such as
downsizing and the accompanying layoffs or even national tragedies. They can impact
an individual, a family, an entire company, or even the economy of a country.
Kurzynski (1998) discussed two episodes, one where forgiveness could have affected
working relationships and the second where forgiveness was valuable. One employee
was responsible for clipping and filing ads placed in industry trade journals by
competitors. After several months, she took the initiative to write a report based on her
files and send them to marketing management. The marketing department received her
report well, but Carole’s manager was angry about her “apparent lack of respect and
disregard for the chain of command” (p. 78). Their working relationship became strained
in the weeks that followed. The second example involved a medical technologist who
was a recent graduate from college. She ran a batch of neo-natal blood tests without
placing the guard on the centrifuge, and they were all destroyed (p. 78). Although the
division head was very angry, the employee’s supervisor supported her and was able to
“see past the mistake of the novice technician, consider her performance to date, and
recognize the potential of the person” (p. 83). Although the medical technologist was
held accountable, the supervisor did not hold the incident against her. In fact, her
supervisor suggested that “she devise a solution to the problem so that such an
occurrence would not happen again” (p. 83). She wrote an effective procedure that
ensured the equipment would always be used properly in the future.
Stone (2002) gave an example of working with a CEO and a VP of an organization to
help them establish a better working relationship. The VP could not trust the CEO
because of a situation ten years earlier. The CEO had not approved the VP’s request
for educational support, and the VP had resented and not trusted his boss for over a
decade. After the CEO apologized, the VP forgave him and new “energy and
enthusiasm entered their working relationship” (p. 281). According to Stone, “their new
collaboration served as a working model and set an example that inspired the entire
team to new levels of cooperation, collaboration, and open authentic communication” (p.
281).
Family businesses often create problems that affect relationships. Hubler (2005)
presented his Family Forgiveness Ritual© (discussed elsewhere in this paper). He noted
that
The assumptions, expectations, and role confusion that often plague family
businesses can and do create major hurts . . . It’s not unusual in family
businesses . . . for siblings and parents and children not to be talking to each
other or for various branches of the family to be excluding another branch. In
some of the most dramatic cases, family members have sued each other. (p. 96)
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Hubler (2005) presented a case study in which a father and his oldest son were not
speaking, even though they worked together every day. During the therapy, the son
said, “I want to ask your forgiveness for taking so long to tell you that I was gay” (p.
101). The father responded, “I want to ask your forgiveness for how I handled hearing
that you were gay” (p. 102). They participated in the ritual, and several years later, the
mother reported “the business was doing very well and the family had never been
better” (p. 102).
Cameron and Caza (2002) discussed Nelson Mandela as a striking example of an
individual with “leadership virtue” and forgiveness. Although this example is of individual
and national forgiveness, it has implications for the workplace. Mandela and the black
population of South Africa had experienced decades of “unimaginable suffering and
injustice” (p. 42). When the decision was made to hold free elections in South Africa, the
world expected “revenge and retribution” as the “oppressed became the oppressors.”
The white minority government was to be replaced by black leadership. Mandela’s
example of “virtuous leadership led to an entirely different outcome” (p. 42). Cameron
and Caza (2002) concluded, “The forgiveness exemplified by Mandela helped transform
an entire nation” (p. 43). This remarkable example of how forgiveness could change a
whole nation has implications for the value of forgiveness in a corporation, particularly
when large problems such as downsizing can affect the lives of many employees and
their families.
Risks of Forgiveness
In the psychological literature some concern is expressed about forgiving. McCullough
(2000) stated that “forgiving might not universally be positively associated with health
and well-being. It is possible that in certain interpersonal situations, people with a
willingness to forgive might put their health and well-being at risk” (p. 51). He cited a
study by Katz, Street, and Arias (1997) and indicated that “some research suggests that
forgiveness may be a marker for relational disturbance, for example, in relationships
characterized by physical abuse” (p. 51). While physical abuse may not be common in
the workplace, other forms of abuse, such as sexual harassment, may be a problem
that certainly cannot be accepted. Legaree and her associates (2007) suggested that
victims focus on forgiveness of self, rather than on the perpetrator (p. 199). Care must
be taken that forgiveness of such offenses is not seen as condoning them.
Although forgiveness should be perceived as an individual’s strength, Kurzynski (1998)
noted that problems can exist. “Unfortunately, the attitudes and beliefs people have with
respect to forgiveness are often misconceived. Forgiveness is generally and often
perceived as letting someone off the hook, forgetting, giving up or giving in, or being
soft.” However, he concludes that, “authentic forgiveness is [none] of these” (p. 80).
Cameron and Caza (2002) stated, “Despite misconceptions associating forgiveness
with weakness or timidity, to truly forgive is an indication of remarkable strength and
discipline” (p. 38). They indicated that forgiveness does not imply forgetting, and that it
takes time. They also said, “Forgiveness is distinct from trusting. Offenders need not be
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trusted just because they are forgiven. Abandoning negative emotions does not require
that trust be re-established, even though a social relationship is renewed” (2002, pp. 38-
39).
Because the workplace often requires individuals to cooperate and even depend on one
another, reconciliation may be important. However, this does not imply condoning the
transgression. Aquino et al. (2003) stated, “Condoning an act is equivalent to denying
the wrongness of an act. In contrast with forgiveness, it is essential that the injured party
recognize that what the offender did was wrong…We can, in short, forgive the sinner
but not condone the sin” (p. 213).
Leadership and Management
Stone (2002) argued that the primary purpose of leadership is to “create an environment
of thriving, which allows people to grow, learn and contribute in a safe place where they
feel they belong” (p. 278). He purports that “forgiveness is the most challenging and
essential element of attaining a more nurturing and fulfilling climate at work” (p. 278).
Yet many business leaders continue to believe that forgiveness is inappropriate to
discuss in the workplace because it is considered an abstract philosophical or religious
principle (Stone, 2002). However, it is becoming quite clear to successful leaders and
managers that creating an enriching and creative environment requires teams and
individuals to work together effectively (Little, Simmons, & Nelson, 2007).
Researchers and practitioners have provided evidence regarding the role of managers
and leaders in fostering a forgiving culture within their organizations. At times, it is this
forgiveness leadership that allows organizations to move forward after difficult and
sometimes devastating situations or occurrences. Cameron and Caza (2002) present
two vital roles leaders can have in these circumstances. First, when leaders provide
meaning and vision during these times, employees often respond positively. Forgiving
does not mean that error is tolerated; it should actually “facilitate excellence and
improvement rather than inhibiting it” (p. 44). Second, leaders can provide legitimacy
and support. When leaders acknowledge and communicate the value of human
development and welfare, a forgiving environment is enhanced. Leaders can exemplify,
highlight, and celebrate virtuous actions, such as forgiveness, by initiating and
supporting organizational structures, systems, and resources that are aligned with
forgiveness and other important virtues (Cameron & Caza, 2002). Kurzynski (1998)
discussed the importance of forgiveness for managers when their employees make
mistakes. He said that many managers expect perfect compliance, which is not a
realistic expectation. The human element in business today, with its fast-paced, smaller
staffed, and competitive environments, means that mistakes, disagreements, and
problems are commonplace. Managers can be examples by accepting occasional
mistakes and assisting employees so the mistakes are not repeated. Kurzynski argues
that “forgiveness offers a way for the manager to deal with the negative and potentially
destructive feelings that may result after a conflict between manager and employee in a
way that can empower both (p. 79). He also spoke of the importance of forgiveness as
an ethical response for managers. He believes that forgiveness is an ethical standard of
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255
behavior that requires managers to recognize and acknowledge the wrong. Forgiving
requires the manager to “accept the responsibility and challenge in accepting others as
human persons with and without their faults, and learning to live together without
sustained anger and resentment” (p. 82). Kurzynaki defined ethical managers as
forgiving individuals. Finally, Aquino, Tripp, and Bies (2006) conducted two empirical
studies on revenge, forgiveness, and reconciliation. They concluded that creating a
procedurally just climate seems to encourage forgiveness and reconciliation instead of
revenge and avoidance. In doing this, not only will there be fewer offenses, but
individuals will more likely utilize formal grievance processes in resolving their issues.
Business Interventions
The literature on workplace forgiveness interventions is limited, but numerous
interventions are discussed in the psychological literature. In this section we present
some of these studies and note their application to potential business interventions.
Before doing this it is important to note that forgiveness interventions must acknowledge
the implications and complexities of gender, culture, religion (Orr et al., 2005), class,
and personal histories. In addition, various researchers and authors (e.g., Aquino, Tripp,
& Bies, 2006) extend a “call for action” for managerial efforts to “reengineer” their
organizations “to include a procedurally just climate” (p. 666) that creates appropriate
settings for forgiveness. The following list describes six intervention categories
suggested in the literature:
1. Third-party interventions: Struthers et al. (2005) found that workers can be
“encouraged to forgive such conflicts following third-party interventions
developed to facilitate forgiveness” and that “by helping workers overcome the
potentially debilitating reactions that can arise from conflict with their coworkers,”
(p. 306) forgiveness interventions can help repair damaged workplace
relationships and assist in building more healthy workplaces.
2. Social interest interventions: Butler and Mullis (2001) argued that social interest
increases forgiveness and that organizational development interventions may
encourage the development of social interest, which would also increase a
forgiving culture. Interventions such as intergroup team-building, third-party
peacemaking, and survey feedback processes, which focus on social interest
development in organizations, may “also promote forgiveness as a problem-
solving strategy for workplace conflict” (p. 269).
3. Writing and journaling: Writing and journaling may be effective activities to aid in
conflict management, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication
interventions within the workplace (Pettigrove, 2007). Professional counseling
available through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may already be
utilizing such methods ultimately as performance improving techniques. Landry,
Rachal, Rachal, and Rosenthal (2005) studied the influence of writing and
journaling about an interpersonal offense on a person’s motivation to forgive. In
their study with undergraduate students, they found that those who wrote about
their conflict reported significant improvements in the manner they reflected on
and experienced the interpersonal conflict. Participants who verbalized their
thoughts and feelings also reported cognitive changes, improved understanding
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256
of the conflict, and improved coping skills (p. 3). Landry and her associates cited
research that found the benefits of writing tended to persist and even grow
stronger over time and that, although females benefit from writing, males benefit
even more (p. 10).
4. Educational programs: Rodden (1997) discussed various dimensions of
forgiveness in the framework of steps toward character education. Interestingly,
character education is often an important component of workplace ethics training
and development interventions. He recommends that steps toward forgiveness
must be addressed in such educational programs. Hui and Ho (2004) found that
forgiveness was a “viable classroom guidance program” (p. 477) that
demonstrated student improvements in forgiveness, self-esteem, and hope. They
did warn, however, that short programs (e.g., four weeks) are not enough time to
demonstrate significant changes. They noted that group forgiveness
interventions were effective in helping some participants forgive specific
individuals but not others in general. Denton and Martin (1998) argued that
“education about forgiveness is essential in emphasizing the power of individual
choice, the personalized aspects of its process, and its real benefits” (p. 289).
Education can empower employees by providing knowledge of what is
happening as well as promoting awareness of the possible biases and
assumptions they may have which may hinder the forgiveness process.
5. Forgiveness programs: Hubler (2005) reported on his use of a Family
Forgiveness Ritual©, which he found to be effective with problems incurred in
family-owned businesses. This intervention used individual counseling and the
inclusion of a member of the clergy selected by the family. While this type of
intervention may be useful for a small, close-knit group such as a family, it may
not be as helpful in a larger organization. A time may arise when an individual
should be referred to a therapist for help with anger management, which might
lead to forgiveness therapy. Some type of group forgiveness therapy may be
appropriate for situations such as a major downsizing or a hostile takeover. It
would appear that training of leaders in modeling forgiveness as well as general
training in conflict resolution might be more effective.
6. Empathy-building and communication interventions: McCullough et al. (2003)
found that individuals tended to have more forbearance if the transgression was
not severe, if they had empathy with the transgressor, and if they did not have
strong attribution of responsibility towards the transgressor. While the severity of
the transgression may be beyond the control of management, it would appear
that building strong empathy among employees would be helpful in encouraging
forbearance and forgiveness. Communication might also mitigate the impact of
responsibility attribution, although it appears to be important not to make excuses
for genuine transgressions. Pettigrove (2007) includes a caution, however, that
understanding does not always lead to forgiving as it may be perceived as
excusing and justifying. Bottom et al. (2002) noted that “accepting blame may
create better prospects for future cooperation in short interactions. By admitting a
mistake, a person acknowledges their fallibility and may even generate increased
attraction” (p. 510).
Copyright © 2009 Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management. All Rights Reserved.
257
Not all of the interventions presented in this paper can be offered directly by an HRD or
human resources department. Yet, if leaders, managers, and HR/HRD professionals
are educated and aware of the counseling options, they can provide employees with
appropriate suggestions and recommendations for further assistance. For example,
many companies offer employee assistance programs that provide professional
counseling for various emotional issues and stressful situations. The use of EAPs by
organizations has increased in past years as more businesses are finding that
physically and mentally healthier employees are more productive. These interventions
have shown to lead to improved workplace performance at all levels.
Proposed Framework
Based upon the reviewed literature, we propose the following integrated perspective of
forgiveness: forgiveness is a psychological act, a communicative act, and a social act
(see Figure 1). At the individual (psychological) level it involves letting go of offense
even if being offended is justified and the hurt is sustained. At the dyadic
(communication) level, it involves letting the offending party know that the offense has
been removed or erased. At the organizational/cultural (social) level, it means that the
relationship and associations are in balance and functioning effectively. A set of
elements and questions for each of these levels of forgiveness provides the framework
for scholars and practitioners to analyze and understand this phenomenon at a more
comprehensive level.
Individual Level (Psychology)
1. Perception: Has an offense been seen, heard or felt? People perceive the intent
to offend differently. For example, the literature suggests that performance
feedback is often perceived as offensive. Yet others value feedback from trusted
individuals as a gift. People with a long history of violence or abuse may also
perceive offense differently.
2. Justification: Are the feelings of hurt justified? Some individuals “own” the hurt,
saying the offender was justified, while others personalize and amplify their
feelings.
3. Sustained: Is the feeling of hurt sustained? For some individuals an offense is felt
over time, while others can “let go” quickly. Several studies suggest males
accumulate fewer but more significant conflicts. Sustained conflict comes when
the probability or anticipation of reoccurrence is felt.
Dyadic Level (Communication)
1. Identity or action: Is the offence against your identity (who you are) or your action
(what you did)? What is the difference in perception between the offending party
and the offender?
2. Retaliation, defense, or acceptance: People hold assorted learned strategies for
dealing with offense or hurt. Is the offended party justifying retaliation (verbal or
Copyright © 2009 Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management. All Rights Reserved.
258
behavioral), being defensive (keeping additional hurt from happening), or
accepting (playing the victim or “absorbing” the hurt)?
3. History: Is there a history? Do the offender and the offended have a sustained
relationship and a history of resolution?
Figure 1: An Integrated Model of Forgiveness
Organizational/Culture Level (Social)
1. Moral Values: Is forgiveness valued beyond just the functional aspect of a
relationship?
2. Trust: Can trust be restored between the offender and the offended, and can hurt
be forgotten?
3. Harmony: Can balance and harmony be restored so that the parties can work
productively together?
This simple model highlights the difficulty of dealing with issues of forgiveness in an
organizational setting. We note that the literature on forgiveness can be loosely
categorized into psychological, communicative and social categories. As an offense
What is going on
inside my head
and my heart?
What is g
oing
on in our
relationship(s)?
on in our
company,
organization,
society and/or
community?
Social/Cultural
Dyadic
Psychological
Copyright © 2009 Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management. All Rights Reserved.
259
perceived creates a psychological need for forgiveness, forgiveness cannot be
consummated unless it is communicated to the offending party. When forgiveness goes
public in a communicative act, human subjectivity reigns. The legitimacy of the offense
and the perception of harm come into dispute. At the social/cultural level, these issues
often play out in social discourse where the offenses are voiced and contexted in what
can become a revictimization of the wronged or a villanization of the offender, further
exacerbating the hurt. Scholars and HR professionals alike clearly need to
conceptualize the complexity of this subject while providing practical ways to reduce
hurt through forgiveness.
Conclusion and Recommendations
A primary focus of management and HRD is to improve individual, team and
organizational performance. This is the first manuscript to suggest that HRD
researchers and practitioners should consider the influence of individual and workplace
forgiveness on the performance and productivity of employees and organizations, and
one of the first to suggest that management researchers and practitioners to do the
same. The literature reviewed in this paper provides a solid foundation for management
and HRD professionals to consider the potential impact of forgiving on physical and
mental health, job performance and productivity, and organizational issues. It makes a
case for the role of leaders and managers in creating an environment (which includes
forgiveness) that allows for effective learning, development, and contribution of all
employees. This paper also reviews the literature on various change interventions
focused on forgiveness that can lead to performance improvements. Finally, it presents
a new forgiveness framework for scholars and practitioners to use in analyzing and
understanding this phenomenon.
Workplace forgiveness is a new area of inquiry, and research is needed to understand
this and other related constructs (e.g., revenge). For example, does our ability to forgive
positively contribute to our productivity? Do organizations with a capacity to forgive
employees have a sustained competitive advantage? Can forgiveness interventions be
effective? Can the capacity to forgive be expanded through training? Is forgiveness just
a moral value, or does it have practical value? Although these and other questions
require further exploration, we believe that these explorations should not be isolated.
Further exploration would benefit from incorporating the different levels (individual,
dyadic, and organization/culture) and types (psychological, communicative, and social)
of forgiveness we have presented in this model.
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... Whereas some scholars consider that forgiveness can be limited to forgetting, letting go and moving on (Caldwell & Dixon, 2010), others disagree, seeing these as pseudo-forgiveness and holding that "true" forgiveness requires at least a willingness to reconcile (Aquino, Grover, Goldman, & Folger, 2003;Butler & Mullis, 2001;Kurzynski, 1998;Madsen, Gygi, Hammond, & Plowman, 2009). Various authors have emphasized the healing and restoration orientations of forgiveness (Bradfield & Aquino, 1999;Kurzynski, 1998). ...
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... Yukarıda belirtilen düzeylere paralel olarak, örgütlerde affediciliğin gerçekleşebilmesi için kişiler arası ilişkilerde yaşanan sorunların üç aşamada analiz edilmesi gerekmektedir (Madsen, Gygi, Hammond ve Plowman, 2009): ...
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Karaman-Kepenekci, Y. (2015) Örgütsel Affedicilik Kavramına Genel Bir Bakış, Prof. Dr. Mahmut Âdem’e 80. Yaş Armağanı (Yayına Hazırlayan: K. Karakütük), Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi Eğitim Bilimleri Fakültesi Yayını, No: 214, 169–185
... Leaders can enable this type of virtuous interaction by initiating and supporting organizational structures, systems and resources such as restorative practices that are aligned with forgiveness (Madsen et al., 2009). Restorative justice and other reconciliation oriented approaches focus on the positive benefits of being able to let-go and move-on. ...
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... Finally, we examined the extent to which employees forgave their family member for the interruption. Forgiveness has been related to positive outcomes like greater life satisfaction and lower depression and anxiety, as well as to job performance and employee morale (Madsen et al., 2009;Riek & Mania, 2012), and as such is an important outcome to study. ...
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... 3. Altruistic gift of forgiveness 4. Commitment to forgive 5. Hold on to the forgiveness It is possible to talk about the reflections of the concept of forgiveness at the organizational level as well as at the individual level. Organizational forgiveness, having three headings as an individual, collective, and organizational in the literature, can be defined as the ability to replace the feelings such as anger, pain, or accusation caused by the situations experienced in the organization with positive expectations and perspectives (Cameron and Caze, 2002;Madsen, Gygi, Plowman and Hammond, 2009;Fehr and Gelfand, 2012;Luskin, Aberman and DeLorenzo, 2005;Harris, Luskin, Benisovich, Standard, Bruning, Evans and Thoresen, 2006). The concept of forgiveness is particularly important in educational organizations whose input and output are human. ...
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Nayır, F. ve Karaman-Kepenekci, Y. (2016) Öğretmenlerin Örgütsel Affediciliğe İlişkin Görüşlerinin Çeşitli Değişkenlere Göre İncelenmesi, Uluslararası İnsan Bilimleri Dergisi (International Journal of Human Sciences - IJHS), 13(3): 4168-4180, http://dx.doi.org/10.14687/jhs.v13i3.3848
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Through qualitative research based on interviews, I describe how psychoanalytic practitioners perceive forgiveness, a complex subject with cultural, religious and political associations. They see it as important, and sometimes at the heart of the psychoanalytic endeavour. Analytic thinking has enriched what is essentially a concept determined by religions and cultures. The development of the capacity to forgive requires consciousness and empathy, for both self and other, and the need for appropriate metabolizing of aggression.
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The forgiveness process has been advocated as being useful in treating a wide range of inter- and intrapersonal problems. However, acceptance of this technique has been limited in part by its weak empirical basis. This study assessed a sample of experienced clinicians for their perceptions of the definition of forgiveness, the steps in the process, and appropriate therapeutic usage. Statistical analysis within and between groups yields clear guidelines for therapeutic and research purposes. Treatment suggestions and directions for future research are explicated.
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This study examined the implementation of forgiveness as a guidance programme with Hong Kong Chinese adolescents in the classroom setting. The forgiveness programme was based on Enright's process model of forgiveness. The effectiveness of the programme was evaluated, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Findings showed that it is viable to promote forgiveness as a classroom guidance programme. Though no significant improvement in participants’ self-esteem and hope was found, participants showed a better understanding of forgiveness, had a more positive attitude towards their offenders, and were more willing to apply forgiveness as a strategy. They also evaluated the forgiveness programme positively, specifically the use of an experiential approach. The implications of this study for student guidance and counselling were discussed.
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In an individualistic society and in the increasingly competitive business environment people do not seem inclined ‘to forgive others their trespasses’. One is more likely to choose to ignore the virtue of forgiveness as a way of handling personnel situations involving intense conflict or mild disagreements, favoring instead the negative feelings of resentment, anger, revenge or retaliation. Business people seem less concerned with growth in virtue and character; interestingly they allow their character and ultimately their work relationships to deteriorate because they hold onto feelings of anger and resentment. Is there a place for forgiveness in our interpersonal relationships in general and in corporate life in particular? I believe there is. A study of the virtue of forgiveness shows that it is a misunderstood virtue, but one that deserves attention. In this article I will examine the virtue of forgiveness, defining what forgiveness is and is not, and will illustrate how it might be situated as an essential human resource management strategy.
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We experimentally investigated the effects of arousal, offense removal ("making amends"), and apology following a scripted laboratory offense involving unde-served failure feedback. Self-report and behavioral measures of forgiveness and retaliation were influenced differentially by the manipulations. Retaliation was influenced only by the presence of an apology. Consistent with some previous findings, experimenters who committed the offense and apologized were evaluated more negatively than when they did not apologize. The relationship between apology and retaliation was mediated by participants' blame directed at the experimenter. Forgiveness was more complex, and varied depending on arousal, offense removal, and apology. In the high arousal condition, forgiveness was least likely following an "insincere apology" in which the offender did not make amends for the wrong when apologizing. These results are interpreted in terms of a two-stage model of forgiveness in which different variables influence revenge and forgiveness.
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Most of us have some appreciation for the healing nature of forgiveness in our personal lives, even if we do not always practice it! But, in the world of work it is an act even more rare than the expression of authentic gratitude and appreciation. It is the intention of this paper to show that, in this new economy, which is characterized by escalating speed of change, increasing alienation and a growing search for meaning, it makes good business sense to practice the art of forgiveness. True forgiveness supports the retention of valued employees, allows for greater creativity and innovation, leads to increased profitability, and generates greater flexibility in adapting to changing market conditions.