How to forgive someone at work (who doesn’t really deserve it)

As someone who is extremely wary when professionally betrayed (let’s not even get into the personal betrayals part) I’m not inclined to forgive. I’ll work with the person, but I will never
fully trust them again.

Here’s what some extremely smart folks had to say on the topic:

Assess the damage level: “I have had these situations in every place that I have ever worked– government, non-profit, retail, explained nonprofit professional Frank Scafidi. “But for me it
depends on how deep the stab was. A minor flesh wound–forgive and forget. But a deep arterial severing–as in someone getting a promotion or significant financial award for their transgression–not a chance.” When that happened, Scafidi “made sure to correct the official record, not to deny the offender their purloined benefit, but to illustrate to company leadership that due diligence weighing someone’s “accomplishments is essential to fairness and morale.”

Forgive but don’t forget: “Will I trust the person again? Likely not,” said Stephanie M. Casey CEO, Lovage Inc. “People who take credit for others’ work, don’t follow through on agreed upon or understood terms, or are just sneaky liars.” While Casey was not without empathy, saying those who behave badly professionally might be coming from a bad place, “In general,
we can assume they are hurting in some way- insecurity, have been burned themselves, sad, resentful, angry, depressed, feel like they aren’t good enough based on their own merits.”

That doesn’t mean they get a free pass to screw you over “Their behavior is on them and it’s my job as now an educated consumer of their behavior to steer clear. So, will I be vindictive or cruel to them? No. Will they be at the top of my list to collaborate with or toss an opportunity to? No.”

Try to give them the benefit of the doubt: “It’s hard, but a constructive way to deal with conflicts like this is to be curious,” offered Mikaela Kiner, Founder/CEO of Reverb. Kiner suggests asking to speak to them “and ask if they recognize what they did. Ask about their motivation, and approach them with a win/win solution. If you are creative, you can surely
think of one.”

But that approach isn’t for everyone. “This takes emotional intelligence and objectivity. Remember your story is just that, and they have a story too. Give the benefit of the doubt by asking yourself  “Why would a well-intended person behave the way they did?” It may not feel like it, but it’s possible there’s a reasonable explanation.” But remember to trust your gut as well; if they seem to simply be shoveling new lies on top of the new ones, keep your distance in the future if possible.

Think about your own actions: We all like to be the heroes in our own stories, but is it possible that you weren’t entirely blameless? “We often carry around our own stuff–and theirs—the
who, what, and when of a mistake, even guessing at the why constantly evaluating the doer,” said leadership consultant Susan Kuczmarski, author of Lifting People Up: The Power of
Recognition. She also explained that “Caught up in this baggage, we miss out on the simple action steps required for resolution: deeply listen to others, accept their individuality, express
concern, show gratitude for the good and bad (both are blessings), admit mistakes, apologize when wrong, give credit to others, demonstrate patience, and graciously accept feedback.”

The thing is that moving forward from a bad professional situation involves “taking responsibility for one’s own failures and learning from them. Forgiveness helps us get out of the past, by figuring out how to resolve the issue in the present.”

Ready to move on?

Define Forgiveness: Before you decide if indeed you forgive this slimy individual, decide to yourself what your definition of forgiveness is: Workplace and Careers Analyst, Charlette Beasley from  explained “It depends on what you consider forgiveness. You can choose not to hold a grudge against a colleague who screws you over but still watch your back.”

In the case of someone who is intentionally sabotaging your career, forgiveness is not always the wisest move. “If that person intentionally stabbed you in the back, he or she may very well do it again. Forgiving while still protecting your career just means you need to be more selective about the information you share with people.” Beasley also advises us to “Tread carefully when working on new projects with these people, and lastly, always say what you mean and mean what you say when dealing with them. You don’t want to lose a good professional opportunity because of someone else’s lack of moral values.”

For Kiner, forgiveness involves some caveats.

When I forgive someone, I will:

– Remain professional when speaking to or about them, aka take the high road!
– Identify them as a Taker (in Adam Grant’s terminology) and protect me and my intellectual property from then in the future.
– Avoid partnering or collaborating to the extent possible.

Should you publicly forgive them? Scafidi said, “If it’s a new or young co-worker who may have just taken liberties with claims of accomplishments, then I’d provide some career counseling– PRIVATELY AND OFFSITE–on why that was not appropriate and how it cheats the legitimate coworker of the recognition they earned.” He admits that he did that “from the perspective that someone new to the workplace or in their first real job who “could be saved from committing more serious transgressions later in their careers. Call it long-term career care from an older co-worker who sees lots of potential in that youthful employee and would hate to see it lost to cheating.”

Protect yourself in the future: Be smart about a sketchy individual, even if you’ve publicly made peace. Kiner also has a list of things she won’t do, which include:

– Harbor resentment, because I know that's actually bad for my physical and mental health and saps my energy
– Talk badly about them, since that is unnecessary and unprofessional. Their behavior speaks for itself, and if they stabbed me in the back, I have no doubt they’ve done the same to others
– Intentionally recommend, help, or support their work in the future, and life is long.

What if you’re still internally conflicted about the whole thing? “Bottom line for me, “forgiveness” is in your heart, but being extremely dubious is in your mind,” shared motivational speaker Kevin E. West. For West, that means “I will “let go” the initial anger or vitriol toward them, after verbally in person expressing my disdain for their action – but moving forward I will never forget what they did.” That also requires long-term vigilance. “What it requires for me is to then frame every engagement with them with as many details and questions as possible and I’ll try to professionally avoid having to be strongly inner-connected in any way on the job.”

Let it go: Sometimes it’s easier just to move on than hold onto the anger. “The penalty should fit the crime,” Scafidi said. “Sometimes just plain forgiveness, without reservation or conditions, goes farther than any amount of self-satisfaction one might get from totally dominating and humiliating someone for a minor mistake.”

Scafidi is pretty much the career mentor I think most of us wish we’d had. He finished by saying, “I have to preface all of this by admitting that as an older man (68) I have grown much more tolerant of some behaviors that I would not have excused earlier in life. But, even so, some things are unforgivable.”