Letting go of hurts and grudges with colleagues

It seems that if you work with people long enough, there will be times when there are misunderstandings and upsets with colleagues. And when difficulties continue over time, very significant hurt and distrust are often the result. 

This is very understandable, of course. I don’t know any perfect people and we are all allowed to be human. But at the same time I am concerned about the cost of holding onto hurt, both for the performance of the team and also for the individuals concerned. On this, the research is clear – that holding on to negative emotions over the long term, has a significant detrimental effect on our mental and physical health. 

As soon as we possibly can, we are better to let go of such negative emotions. This doesn’t mean we are going to be best friends with that colleague or forget what has occurred. But it does mean sufficiently letting go of the hurt so we can live our lives well and work more easily with that person. 

Having said that, it is easier to let go of some upsets than others. It is also much harder to let go of hurt when awful behaviour is continuing. So, other actions may well be needed apart from finding peace about what has taken place. 

But here is what you can do to let go of hurts that have occurred: 

  1. Make a decision to want to let go: I think this is the most important part. If you want to let go of negative emotions strongly enough, you tend to find a way to do so. Remind yourself why you want to do so. Is it the cost of the status quo? Or the benefits to you or the team? Often, the most compelling reason to do so is for your own well-being, because you deserve it.

    Take responsibility for any contribution you may have made: I don’t know any perfect people. It is a great strength when you can acknowledge any contribution to the difficulties that you may have made. Apart from giving yourself something you can change, doing so also helps you feel more compassion for the other person. 

  2. Take control of your thinking: Rather than replaying the difficulties and refreshing the hurt, focus your thoughts elsewhere. Alternatively, remind yourself that you want to let go of the hurt. Or practise sincerely wishing that person good health and happiness. 

    Our feelings tend to follow our thoughts. So, if we can train our mind to think in more helpful ways, over time, the feelings will tend to follow.

  3. Consider small acts of goodwill: Rather than adding fuel to the fire, your actions need to be extinguishing the flames. This could simply be through small steps, such as acts of civility or goodwill, where you are returning meanness with kindness. Saying hello to that colleague with a pleasant tone, rather than avoiding them, for example, tends to communicate that you are wanting to move in a positive direction. 

    Actions often speak louder than words for many people. So, consider any changes you can make that are consistent with how the other person likes to be treated. This increases the likelihood of reciprocity.

  4. Call for a fresh start: Of course, there is always a big step where you apologise directly to that person for your part of the difficulties, or make a statement of regret for how things have been, your desire for a fresh start, and your hope that you can both do what it takes. 

    However, it is important to appreciate that not everyone finds it easy to reciprocate when there has been a difficult history. These people often need more empathy for their perspective or more time. There may also need to be discussions about what you can both do to help. 

Acting in a civil, professional way, while letting go of any past hurt, does not come with a guarantee of an easier relationship with that person. 

However, letting go of negative emotions over time and acting in kind or professional ways, will not only give you greater peace, but a greater sense that you are doing the right thing.

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