One of the biggest jokes I’ve ever heard in organizational life comes in the form of this innocuous statement:

It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Of course, this comment usually follows one of the following:

  • We’re going with your competitor.
  • We’ve turned down your request for funding on that project.
  • I’m voting with (fill-in-the-blank) on that one.
  • I’m replacing you in this role.
  • We’re letting you go.

Maybe it’s just business to you, but to the person on the receiving end it’s absolutely personal. Money’s lost, dreams delayed, and status jeopardized. And they’re stuck with that feeling in their stomach like they just swallowed a shot of battery acid. No amount of Rolaids will make it feel better.

A friend of mine summed it up after just such a setback. “I’m pissed off!” he said in responsed to my inquiry about how he was doing. Understandable, but what now?

Most people stuff it and move on. They nurse the grudge, privately (or not so much) wish the other person harm, and wait for a chance to settle the score. Is there a better way?

We’re not used to talking about it in the marketplace, but there is: Forgiveness. The best definition I’ve heard of that rare action is “letting yourself and the other person off the hook of your own anger.” In other words, staying ticked off only makes you miserable. Sure, you may get revenge someday, but why wait for that when you can have the pleasure of forgiveness right now?

I’m not arguing a moral point here (though I think there is one). Rather, I’m just suggesting that we can and should say (and mean) both “Sorry” and “I forgive you” even in the rough and tumble world of business. We’ll be happier, do better work, and probably be healthier as a result.

Anyone (including yourself) you need to let off the hook today?