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Feature   February 1, 2007   by Mark Borkowski

Is Every Day a Grudge Match?

How to forgive mistakes and just get on with creating a prosperous business.

According to The Economic Times, “To err is human, but in the world of business, forgiveness is a virtue that is seldom encountered.”

This is especially true when a single mistake can push a company to the brink of bankruptcy and possibly closure. It’s surprising then that business schools rarely uphold examples of corporate mistakes while teaching management theory.

At the core of the issue is how to react when somebody hurts you. Do you wish to hurt that person back, or do you hold it against that person for the rest of your life?

If you answered yes to these questions, you share company with most people. To forgive is something that people usually struggle with in their everyday lives. Yet it takes enormous energy to hate and to keep that hate. Forgiveness brings freedom.

So, what keeps us from forgiving people, and forgiving easily? Is it a sign of weakness if we forgive? In the rough-and-tumble business world, is it profitable to forgive?

In reality, to forgive requires immense courage. It is not something that you give to someone based on his or her good behaviour. It is something that you give to a person regardless of whether that person has deserved it or not. Forgiveness is freely offered.

Moreover, forgiveness is not an event that starts and concludes when you say the words, “I forgive you”. Forgiveness is an act and a process, which often takes time. The deeper you’re hurt, the longer it usually takes to completely forgive. It is an act, because it is not just the words you say but it is your actions that will show if you’ve really forgiven.

A fine example of someone who embodies true forgiveness is former South African president Nelson Mandela. Mandela was imprisoned by the former all-white South African government for 27 years. Upon his release Mandela surprised the whole world when he showed no bitterness towards his jailers. That is truly remarkable.

According to author D. Patrick Miller of “A Little Book of Forgiveness,” forgiveness is surrendering grievances.

Studies indicate that forgiveness can actually make us healthier. In business, forgiveness can make companies more robust, allowing people to strengthen their bonds with existing clients, colleagues, and contacts.

Forgiveness is not making excuses or forgetting that you’ve been wronged. If at first you can’t forgive, give it a little time. And begin by forgiving those you work with.

Forgiving those you work with might mean taking time to understand why Cathy occasionally comes in late before giving her heck, after she’s been up all night with a sick child. Or coaching Bob after he blows his first sales presentation, instead of just calling him a stupid jerk.

“You have to first model forgiveness inside your own organization,” says Patricia Welther, president of Help Software Systems.

With a company’s bottom line in mind, there’s a practical side, too. The collective peace that forgiveness fosters can make your business stronger, she explains.

“Customers won’t do business with you if they suspect turmoil inside your company,” Welther says. “There’s too much competition. If they don’t see everyone working as a team, it’s like blood in the water with the sharks.”

One of the most difficult challenges in the world is forgiving ourselves for jobs we could have done better, phone calls we didn’t return, or to-do lists that only got halfway done. We can’t do our best work when we’re busy slicing ourselves to the core.

Here are six simple steps you can use to identify and interrupt the excuses that are getting in your way.

1. Notice and identify the feeling or feelings (disappointment, anger, fear, resentment, etc.)

2. Complete this sentence for each feeling: “I’m feeling ________ because _______________.”

3. The “because” part of your sentence is the excuse you are using to justify not forgiving. What would happen if you dump this excuse?

4. If you are not willing to let go of this excuse right now, ask yourself if you can imagine letting go of it at some time in the future.

5. After you choose, live with your choice, knowing that it is a choice, and being willing to accept the costs and consequences of your decision.

Mark Borkowski is president of Toronto-based Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corporation. Mercantile specializes in the sale of privately owned companies to strategic buyers. He can be contacted at or (416) 368-8466 ext. 232

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