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Last year, I had the privilege of being at WorkHuman, an amazing conference on the science of happiness and recognition from Globoforce. I went not knowing fully what to expect. The conference was strong in its challenge to workplace considerations around communication, recognition and investment in others. From a few of our speakers, I found myself thinking about how I had reacted in certain situations and how I might have approached them differently. It was a little bit of regret in those considerations (which isn’t all bad), but much more about the actual outcome of the situation.

What was I hoping the outcome to be? When I lost my mind (hold the comments) at times, what result did I hope for from such a response? I had to better quantify my goals, and therefore, my behaviors, in human interaction.

And from various conversations, a progression started to emerge:
• Being right is more important than being understood
• Being respected is more important than being right
• Being in charge is more important than being respected

I didn’t care for this analysis, mostly because it rang true in my life and in the workplaces in my history.

As children, we find our default position in connection with others. Few children find the right response on their own. Most find various coping mechanisms and personality traits to cover for inadequacies. The need to be right, for example, is a rough one. Growing out of that perspective simply by being told to grow out of it, does not usually work. It is not a surprise that our default is self-protection. Criticism might mean we’re wrong, and that simply won’t do, so we dig our heels in further.

Fast forward to adulthood and our roles within our organizations. We endeavor to be an admired leader and seen as someone who can handle what comes our way. And yet, through a variety of circumstances, we oppose that intention through our unconscious actions.

Take forgiveness, for instance. The science behind it is fascinating. The physiological responsiveness to reliving a painful or hurtful situation will still accelerate heartrate and blood pressure as well as increase stress-sweating. Because of the physical responsiveness to such situations, we may have a difficult time letting go. So, we settle into the physical, mental and emotional unhealthy pattern and direct our angst against the perpetrator of our pain.

And yet, we know that forgiving another reduces the burden in our own lives. There may be people in your life who are waiting to receive the forgiveness you will offer. Even if they haven’t asked for it, offering forgiveness changes the dynamic of you and the way you relate to others. And the need to be right as a first order of business is more easily set aside in favor of restoration. Rebuilding trust and reopening doors to involvement bring about marked dynamic change for you. And, as such, an organization of people will engage differently and more productively.

Being attentive to appreciation and restoration rather than justification (a healthy outcome from WorkHuman challenges) changes perspective. The tone and demeanor of your team in one of seeking the best in others and giving others the benefit of the doubt when something seems off. And when someone does make a mistake, there isn’t as much fear in coming clean and owning it. The community will accept, redirect, and move on.

Now, think about the team you have to lead. Are they free to err and to ask for forgiveness? Our default answer is yes (I see you nodding your head as you read this); however, it’s our actions that really tell the answer. Are you “done with” a certain person? Is there any bit of that feeling that you own because you’ve not really given that person a chance to recover from a past mistake? Forgiveness is actionable, not just sentiment.

The efforts we’re willing to put in to protect ourselves should not supersede the efforts we put into restoring others. Confront, forgive, restore – this healthy process allows those guilty of wrong to redeem themselves and likely exceed expectations. And while I am acutely aware of those that will not rise to the occasion, I would like to submit that not all people will disappoint.

Listen, those steps in the process are not easy. It hurts. You will want to be justified in your anger and pain. And you may have a right to be angry and upset. But the burden of that incident will weigh on you in this context for days, months, years, sometimes, a lifetime. Can we work together to bring the cause for humanity back to our workplaces, our homes, our lives? We must think and work human.

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