Engaged HR is pleased to welcome guest blogger and DisruptHR speaker Tammy Dewar, coach and facilitator with Calliope Learning and the author of How to Forgive your Boss. Tammy’s blog outlines her talk “Get Over It” at DisruptHR 2.0 with the full length video available below.
In my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of individuals and dozens of teams who are at war with each other. They ignore each other, gossip and speak badly about each other, withhold important information, and keep detailed files on what each other does. They yell at each other, send nasty emails to and about each other, file grievances against each other, try to get each other fired and, when none of these tactics work, they often go on sick leave or quit their jobs.
So you might think that I only work with really crazy, highly dysfunctional people. But I don’t. Most of the time I work with highly competent people who want to go to work, make a difference and enjoy their jobs. I work with people like you and me. Why can’t people get over it and move on? Why do people continue to hang onto things when it’s fairly obvious to all that it’s really hurting them to hang on?
I’ve done a lot of thinking and researching on this because I am a recovering festerer, a pretty intelligent, well read and, for the most part, highly functional person who has struggled to get over things. I’ve also spent a lot of time reflecting on what is holding back my clients from getting over things, and I’ve come to a few insights.
One is fairness. I have held onto many things because I didn’t think it was fair. It’s not fair that my client bailed on our contract and I did a bunch of work for nothing. A lot of my clients suggest it’s not fair that people get away with stuff in their organizations. I’m starting to question fairness as a corporate value, as it leads to the mistaken notion that life is fair. And it’s not. Perhaps compassion is a more relevant concept, as that’s really what’s needed in a complex work world where people are likely to get hurt. How can we all find compassion instead of obsessing over fairness?
My other insight is that we hang onto things because we think that if we get over something, it means we approve of or condone whatever harm was done to us. We think that by hanging on, we are somehow making the other person pay for their egregious behavior.
And the most important insight I’ve come to is this … When we can’t let go of something, it’s a sign that there is something there for us to heal. And healing is quite different from getting over a minor disagreement. Healing means that we open ourselves up, not heighten our defenses.
But we have much more experience in heightening our defenses. We put on armour to go to work, adding more and more layers and rules to our daily repertoire. I will never let anyone do this again. I will make sure that I always do this. I will always copy so-and-so into my next email. I will never trust this person or this department ever again.
How do we avoid the “armouring up” that often accompanies a hurtful, painful event? Most often we think we need reconciliation, to get “our day in court”, “be heard”, “get an apology from someone”, and make the offender pay. We spend a lot of our time in organizations designing formal processes that try to bring about reconciliation. But, in my experience, this is not complete. The way we really get over it is through forgiveness. Not forget, as the old saying goes – most of will never forget – but rather to transform what we remember through forgiveness. We get over wishing that the past was different, and let go of the hurt, pain and anger towards the person who hurt us. Forgiveness is an inner process that sets us free.
Forgiveness often conjures up religious associations and the idea that it is a one-time miraculous thing that we do. In my experience though, it is a set of skills we can learn and a continual process we use to help us move through challenging experiences that are part of a complex world. Three skills that are particularly relevant are witnessing, unearthing compassion, and transforming our stories.
Witnessing means to hold a sacred space to feel the pain without judgement, without fixing it, or trying to make it go away by seeking retribution or through numbing. It means to consider the impact of the offense on someone’s identity. It means asking the questions “How am I thinking about myself as a result of this event?” and “How has this event changed me?”.
Next, and harder, is to find compassion for humanity. If all we can find in ourselves is anger toward the offender, we only experience anger at ourselves. If we can find compassion for the offender, we experience compassion towards ourselves. And compassion, not anger, leads to healing.
And finally is transforming the story. This starts with asking different questions. Instead of asking “Why did this have to happen to me?” we ask, “What is waiting to be transformed in me?” Instead of “I suck, you suck, the organization sucks”, we pursue the meaning and opportunity in the hurtful event.
Early in my career, I moved from job to job, trying to get away from bad bosses and bad organizations. Every time I switched jobs, I found myself in yet another bad situation. I kept adding to my very woeful “I’ve been wronged” story. And finally, after much soul-searching, I took a break from my righteous indignation and anger. I accepted that being human is about both joy and suffering.
And when I started to let go of things, I started to suffer less. It wasn’t a point in time, more a gradual acceptance of the human condition that we aren’t all loving and kind all the time. In fact most of us can be pretty horrible to each other on occasion. The more I let go, the more possibility I let into my life. I found my true path, and I did so from a position of strength and power instead of making decisions to get back at people.
So, my challenge to you is this – What are you hanging onto and what is it costing you? Who might you need to forgive? What might be your first step towards getting over it? What possibilities might you uncover as you take that first step?
Learn more with Tammy’s 5 minute DisruptHR Talk “Get Over It”.
Disclaimer: All content provided in this blog is the opinions expressed by the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of Engaged HR.