Sometimes the person we need to forgive the most is ourselves.
“I feel horrible about my behavior,” my client told me over the telephone. “During our project team meeting today, I yelled at someone and made her cry.”
I asked what prompted his behavior.
“I was feeling really frustrated because we can’t afford to miss the go-live date for the new IT system,” he explained. “Management is counting on us and I felt like she wasn’t listening to me and didn’t care about resolving the issues we’ve run into. That’s when I lost it and yelled at her.”
There was a long silence on the phone.
“I hate how I reacted and I don’t know what to do. The rest of the day, no one on the team would talk to me or look me in the eye.”
What my client learned that day is the importance of compassion, not just toward others but toward ourselves. To learn from his mistake and move past it, he needed to forgive himself and take steps to help ensure his angry outburst wouldn’t happen again.
Here’s how to move forward when you’ve caused someone else pain:
Apologize. If your behavior offended someone (or made them cry), go to the person and offer your heartfelt apology. Let them know you regret your behavior and why. Then share what you’ll do to keep this from happening in the future.
Ask for help. If you’re worried that a similar situation might occur, ask someone you trust for assistance. Find out if he or she is willing to help if they see a situation escalating. This might be agreeing on a keyword the person can say to remind you to take a deep breath, or a certain look or hand signal to indicate that you should walk away for a few minutes to calm down.
Don’t dwell. Part of being human is knowing we’re not perfect and that we all make mistakes from time to time. Dwelling on a mistake can cause you to feel stuck in that moment. You wouldn’t wish that on someone else, so have compassion for yourself by learning from your mistake and moving on.
Focus on the positive. Instead of fixating on your mistake, think about all the ways you can help others at work. When you leave the office each day, think about everything positive that you accomplished.
Forgive yourself. No one is perfect, even you. Be willing to forgive yourself, just as you’re willing to forgive others and to help others through difficult times.
Practice the “STOP” technique. If you ever feel yourself reverting to a behavior you’ve been trying to correct, practice the “STOP” technique — stop, take a deep breath, observe, proceed.
The next day, my client met with the person he made cry and apologized. They had a heart-to-heart talk that ended up strengthening their professional relationship. He also apologized to the entire project team during the next daily meeting, which gave the group the opportunity to express their own frustrations with the go-live issues. Because of this open discussion, several unique ideas were raised that ended up resolving some of the issues.