Why you should forgive your work nemesis, according to science

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Your colleague might be awful, but you're just destroying your own productivity.

Work is a perfect storm when it comes to whipping up interpersonal conflict.

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For eight hours a day, every workday, you're trapped in a confined space with people doing things you (hopefully) care a great deal about, constantly having to reconcile diverging opinions and personalities all the while. No wonder it's so common for raging rivalries and deep grudges to develop.

Plus, some people are just jerks.

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But whether your office nemesis is your chief antagonist when it comes to strategy and execution, or just a generally awful person, science has the same message for you -- no matter how awful the person and lousy his or her behavior, you'll do better personally and professionally if you dig deep and forgive them.

Forgiveness is a powerful productivity booster

That's the takeaway of a recent study highlighted by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. In a post on their site, Brooke Deterline, CEO of Courageous Leadership, explains that the new research examined how holding a grudge at work impacts not just personal productivity but also mental health. The bottom line?

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"Forgiveness was linked to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism (fewer days missing work), and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches," writes Deterline. The researchers suspect that decreased stress is at the root of all these benefits.

Not only is forgiving your work nemesis, no matter his sins, good for your own work and peace of mind, it's also good for your employer. Along with taking fewer days off, those who forgive their tormentors are more engaged, more collaborative, and less aggressive. That's got to be a good thing for teamwork. Work feuds can even spill over, negatively impacting employees who aren't even involved in the conflict.

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How bosses can foster forgiveness

This research makes a solid case that individuals should take the high road when it comes to their worst colleagues, but it also suggests that bosses would do well to try and encourage their employees not to hold grudges. But how can they do that?

Deterline goes on to talk about work she did along with her team at Courageous Leadership at Google to explore this question, laying out a handful of recommendations for bosses with feuding teams. Check out the complete post for all her recommendations, which include modeling forgiveness and conducting interventions. These efforts might sound a bit emotionally taxing but Deterline insists they'll be worth it.

Admit it, are you holding on to any work grudges? Wouldn't letting them go lighten your load?

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