Enhancing social capital in organisations – a place for forgiveness

perspectives Nov 22, 2017

We have found over many years that one of the major impediments to overcoming a toxic culture is the deep hurt that people have felt by how they perceive they have been treated in their working lives, either presently or in the past.

When people are consumed by these hurts or wounds, it is incredibly difficult to move forward, as any minor indiscretion by another party, however innocent, can lead to invoking images of the past hurtful experience. In some instances, we have found people not wanting to move forward at all until “justice is done”.

How can culture practitioners help people across their organisations to create sufficient space between themselves and the hurt they have experienced, so that they are no longer controlled by (subject to) it, but can learn and grow through it?

When working with clients, Adaptive Cultures have developed a series of methods to enable more compassionate and forgiving workplaces:

  • Name the elephants – create forums where the hurts and discontents can be shared and acknowledged and new actions or ways of being endorsed and acted upon
  • Take responsibility for the elephants; senior people owning their part of the mess and demonstrating vulnerability and role modelling behaviours that send the message that change has already begun
  • Forgiveness rituals – for example, people could share an object representing their desire to forgive with someone they feel has wronged them; people could share an object seeking forgiveness with a person they feel they may have wronged or hurt
  • Help people see the consequence of lack of forgiveness – what are the personal costs of letting someone else live rent-free in your head and heart? Only by forgiving do we own our power to choose our responses and not be subject to our own bitterest judgements
  • Help people to recognise that virtually all human beings (including culture practitioners and those that feel hurt) have both shadow AND light, and only when we accept the whole person can we build real, meaningful relationships.
    Seek the positive intention of the person that hurt you; however inappropriate they were, they were also possibly:
    • protecting their own fragility or
    • protecting their team or someone else, or
    • acting in the best interests of the organisation

The benefits of a more compassionate and forgiving workforce are significant:

  • people feel more accepted for who they are and hence psychological safety is enhanced and the very time-intense role of image management can be either dialled down or dispensed with altogether
  • people empower themselves and free up their energy to focus on constructive opportunities
  • deeper more trusting relationships that ultimately lead to better business outcomes

To build the social capital necessary to create real growth and evolution in organisations requires a process of healing and letting go, so change is embraced wholeheartedly and proactively. If any of this article resonates with you and you can observe some of these challenges in your organisation, then you may be interested in the Adaptive Cultures community. The community of practitioners are actively exploring many of these themes within their sphere of organisations, and actively developing ways and means to respond and adapt. You can find out more here: Accreditation

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