The Art of Forgiveness

There were monkey bars in the playground at my primary school. Old fashioned steel ones where the brightly coloured paint had cracked and peeled, having been baked to a crisp by the hot Australian summer sun. Those monkey bars were often too hot to hold onto or too rough on the palms of your hands to get up enough swing to make it across to the next bar. Then there was the height! Much higher than any 5 year old should have to plummet to reach the safety of the ground!

Those monkey bars weren’t the only tricky hazard in the playground. When you’re 5 years old, the bonds of friendship can be fickle and fleeting. One day you’re best friends, the next you are mortal enemies. The reasons for this shift are often so inconsequential, but they feel enormous. That’s the crux of personal conflict, it’s a feeling thing, not a thinking thing. But as adults, we keep treating it as a thinking thing.

When we are at school, we are taught to tell the other person how you feel, to listen to the other person when they tell you why they did what they did and to shake hands and ‘say sorry’. As kids, that usually works and before you know it, you’re back on the monkey bars together again. Tears and feelings instantly forgotten.

As adults, it’s a lot trickier, because our thoughts, our egos and our personal priorities get in the way. But the essence of forgiveness at any age isn’t that different from those kindergarten days. There is such power in forgiveness, and great benefit to the forgiver. A study by Toussaint et al., 2016 found that forgiveness was directly linked to increased productivity, fewer physical and mental health issues, reduced interpersonal stress and decreased absenteeism.

In her article “The Power of Forgiveness at Work” Brooke Deterline recommends 4 ways that leaders can foster forgiveness at work:

  1. Model forgiveness with your own behavior to show others how it’s done
  2. Apologise and take responsibility so things don’t fester
  3. Rebuild trust by working together on a common task
  4. Ask for a 3rd party to help facilitate a conversation

You can read Brooke’s article at:

In it she mentions a great acronym to help you foster forgiveness. It’s called the REACH model. You can find out more about the REACH model at:

Toussaint, L., Worthington, E., Van Tongeren, D., Hook, J., Berry, J., Shivy, V., Miller, A. and Davis, D. (2016). Forgiveness Working: Forgiveness, Health, and Productivity in the Workplace. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(1), pp.59-67.

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