Forgiveness to Change, Part 2

In my prior blog post I wrote about the role that the absence of forgiveness can play in motivating people to embrace change. Basically, I made the point that some people may be uninterested in moving forward because they choose to remain stuck in lingering resentments from a past perceived offense.

In such cases, it’s crucial to understand that forgiveness is a choice. It is something that one party gives to another. Forgiveness can’t be demanded nor can it be coerced. You are also dealing with personal experience and emotions that won’t be overcome by persuasive arguments. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem when it exists. However, there are some general principles that can be applied at both a one-to-one conversational level as well as at a broader team/organizational level.

Listen with empathy. What people often want to do with their anger is share it with somebody that they feel cares. While listening you are also perspective taking – seeing their situation from their vantage point rather than your evaluation of them from your vantage point. This will help you to gain an understanding of why they are feeling and acting in a certain way, and it may also breed some compassion for them. The key idea is to meet their anger and resentment with compassion.

Invite their help in ways where they feel valued. When you listen with empathy you may get insight into what matters most to them and clues to their intrinsic motives. Who doesn’t respond with great energy and enthusiasm to, “I really need your help with [something I know you’re really good at/interested in].” The key idea is to meet their anger and resentment with appreciation.

Be authentically vulnerable regarding past challenges. Vulnerability isn’t weakness. Vulnerability is openness that makes you more approachable, more trusted and more influential. Therefore, inspirational appeals for change should not just be, “Rah-rah we can do it!” Acknowledging the reality of the past – “I recognize that was harder than we thought and we could have done some things better to help you” – may actually be the point where people choose to change their mindset. The key idea is to meet anger and resentment not with disregard or defensiveness but with transparency.

While it’s crucial for leaders to inspire passion for looking ahead, they also must realistically bear in mind that some followers are looking back at issues that they haven’t forgiven the leaders for. Sometimes the key to moving followers forward isn’t selling them on the benefits of the future but helping them release their resentments from the past.

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