4 Reasons It’s Good Business to Practice Forgiveness

By Sue Elliott


Step 1 in The Easier Way Formula™—being able to show up, fully present and open, in every moment—requires a variety of skills, including forgiveness. Few people know more about forgiveness in the workplace than pioneering researcher Fred Luskin, Ph.D., director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Luskin a while back, and here are four gems from our conversation about why it’s good business to practice forgiveness.

#1: Forgiveness boosts sales. In a classic example, Luskin’s team provided forgiveness training to four different groups of salespeople at American Express, then they tracked each group for a year. The study showed that the salespeople who’d gone through the forgiveness training performed 60 percent to 400 percent better than their peers.

#2: Forgiveness reduces stress. “You can either drive yourself crazy over things that you didn’t like and can’t change, or you [can learn how to] deal with it,” said Luskin. “The example I use all the time is: You’re stuck in traffic and the person in front of you is not moving. What good is it doing your heart if you’re sitting there frantic or screaming at them? Well, that’s no different than if your secretary loses [something] or makes a mistake. What good is it doing your heart to be inside screaming at them for the next two weeks? You stress the hell out of yourself every time you do that.”

#3: Forgiveness increases brain-power. When you’re stressed, you activate your body’s flight-or-fight response. As a result, blood is diverted from your cortex—the reasoning and creative thinking part of your brain—to your limbic system, which is a more primitive part of the brain. “So when you’re stressed or when you’re angry, you simply don’t have your full creative faculties available to you,” Luskin said. “Forgiveness … gives you back your power and integrity to make the best decision at the time.”

#4: Forgiveness improves productivity. “Every single place of business is handicapped by the way people do or do not get along with each other,” Luskin said. “Even though businesses don’t like to talk about it, relationships and the quality of relationships impact people’s performance. I hear this and deal with this all the time: I can’t stand this person I have to work with... Every time I come in, I see how bad they work or how disruptive they are. They never shut up. Or they’re always absent. Or they’re interfering... There’s a dozen ways that people drive each other crazy at work.” This translates into major losses in productivity—not just for the people who get upset, but also for the people they complain to throughout the day.

What Forgiveness Is … and Isn’t

Let’s be clear: Forgiveness does NOT mean condoning someone’s behavior. It doesn’t even mean discussing what happened with the other person involved.

Forgiveness is something you practice internally, on your own. For instance, it could involve a shift in the “story” you’re telling yourself about what happened—perhaps even as simple as a shift from “he did this TO me” to just “he did this.”

The purpose of forgiveness in the workplace is to take back your own power, clear your mind and hit the reset button for your nervous system.

This practice is exceptionally valuable. It can help your company reduce stress, absenteeism, turnover, healthcare costs and work-related injuries. And it can increase productivity, creativity, customer satisfaction and more.

Bottom line: Forgiveness has to do with how you respond to the world around you, and that response is totally within your control.