Experiencing Unexpected Forgiveness

Forgiveness2As I wrote last week, I have recently gone through a series of challenging interactions with clients. Today I am going to write about forgiveness, in the context of misunderstandings and mistakes. Most significantly, I experienced a wakeup call when I was so graciously forgiven by someone who had every right to be angry with me. Was I ever surprised! Here’s the context:

Earlier this year, one of my longtime clients asked me to support her by working with some of her key personnel to smooth out interpersonal dynamics and get everyone pulling in the same direction. Workflow was being negatively impacted and in her busy office, this was not a good thing. Within two months everyone was playing better in the sandbox, the desired results were accomplished, and it had been a positive experience for all.

Same client contacted me again in August and asked me to have further conversation with two of the same employees. Things had disintegrated between them and there were issues to be dealt with. I met with each of the women and then I had a meeting with the two of them to put the pieces together. Amongst other things, we wrote up an action plan for how they were going to better communicate and divide up the workload. I scheduled a brief check in call for the following month. We had the call and afterwards, one of the women asked me if I was planning to send my meeting notes so they would know what new agreements we had made. I said “Sure, I'll take care of that.”

I had already written my notes for the business owner, but those would not be the same as what I would share with the employees. The business owner gets my opinion and concerns and they are part of a digest. All my notes, including each employee’s conversation with me, are included. So, I pulled up the business owner’s notes in order to rewrite and email the appropriate version to the two employees. Done, all is good. Not two hours later I was in my “sent mail” file looking for something and I noticed that there was an attachment on the email I had sent to the two employees! I opened up the email and what did I see but my notes for the business owner!

I immediately emailed my client and told her what just happened. From this moment forward, I was living in the land of angst that comes from knowing I screwed up and knowing I'm going to have to figure out how to fix things. My first step was to ask my client how she would like me to handle it. Of course I wanted her to tell me she would handle it (my fantasy!) but being a smart woman, she said “I think you need to apologize to Susie (made up name) if not both of them.” I told her “Of course I'm going to apologize, and I want to know if there's any further steps you’d like me to take.” We decide to wait until after I apologized to see if a further step was necessary.

I didn’t sleep well, I’d been turning the situation over and over in my mind, trying to figure a way out or a way to handle it with grace. Morning comes and my stomach is in knots. I know I have to make this phone call and I'm dreading it! Intellectually I understand the right thing to do but I don't like how I feel when I overstep in whatever way I do that lands me in this type of situation.

I gather my courage, dial the number and announce myself. The first thing I say is “Hi, it’s Cynthia and I'm calling to apologize. I am so sorry that the notes that were intended for the business owner got to you. And before I could say anything else Susie says “You know, I'm OK. Things happen, I get it was a mistake and we're good.” I said “Really? You're not mad at me? You have every right to be angry with me and I am calling so we can talk about it.” She says “You know, nothing bad has happened, this wasn’t horrible and I’m OK. We’re good.” I concluded the call explaining to her how surprised I was by her response and how I was deeply moved by her graciousness and her ability to be compassionate towards me. Whether that was her intention or not that's I was experiencing.

I'm telling you this story because I underwent a deep shift after this interaction. Experiencing forgiveness when I did not see it coming or believe I deserved it was a high impact moment. I hung up the phone reeling with disbelief. Susie’s ability to forgive me, not rake me over the coals, and not take advantage of my vulnerability was eye opening. I saw, in a new way, the importance of forgiveness and that I have a responsibility to offer my compassion even when I am angry and feeling unforgiving. My ability to forgive could offer the person I am upset with the opportunity to experience a deep shift and pass unexpected compassion onto the next person they have a challenging interaction with. It is easy for us to feel compassion in situations like death, loss, illness, or pain. It is more challenging to feel compassionate when we are hurt, angry or feel wronged. I am making a commitment to step up my game. I need to forgive quicker, let go faster and convey compassion to the other person regardless of how I am feeling. Forgiveness and compassion are powerful emotions and the more we express and share them, the more we all benefit.