Be honest: Do you hold grudges?
If you’re like most people, the answer is an overwhelming yes. The bad news? Doing so is detrimental to your physical and mental health. And it turns out, it’s a lousy way of dealing with disappointment, too.
According to Dr. Frederic Luskin, founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, “holding onto a grudge really is an ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation that you haven’t been able to master.” In a recent New York Times article, Luskin explained that “whenever you can’t grieve and assimilate what has happened, you hold it in a certain way. If it’s bitterness, you hold it with anger. If it’s hopeless, you hold it with despair. But both of those are psycho-physiological responses to an inability to cope, and they both do mental and physical damage.”
The answer, says Dr. Luskin, who published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology a 2006 study on the topic, is forgiveness, which can nullify the harmful effects of holding on to the anger and resentment associated with grudges.
But what if we could stop a grudge from forming in the first place? Here are two strategies to nip that disappointment in the bud before it has a chance to fester:
1. Don’t assume people know what you want—or that you know what they want.
The hard-to-hear truth: Most grudges are disappointments based around unmet expectations. And why are those expectations unmet? Because it’s likely they haven’t been communicated.
When we’re rushed, and under stress, it’s easy to default to what we know best: how we think, what we want, and how we would handle things. We make assumptions, especially with colleagues with whom we’ve worked for a while, believing that everyone knows what our expectations are, even if we haven’t formally announced them.
When leading others, be upfront about your expectations. And if they fall short, position the discrepancy in a non-threatening way that will help both parties understand how to proceed and right the situation. A great tip I learned long ago from an HR professional was to begin a conversation like that with these words: “My expectation is ____, but my observation is ____. Let’s talk about why that might be the case.”
Likewise, concede that you don’t know what others—your colleagues, clients, or boss—want or expect, and it’s not about you. Instead of guessing, employ your soft skills. Practice empathy to see things from their perspective. Ask probing question and then listen, giving others your full and undivided attention. Use your awareness to connect and better communicate with those in your workplace.
2. Practice being an optimist (even if you’re not).
Do you feel like annoying things are always happening to you? It might be your mindset. When we’re negative, we tend to adopt a victim mentality, like the world is out to get us. Every setback is viewed as the end of the world, and every hiccup throws us into a tizzy.
If this sounds familiar, take a beat and instead, try practicing positivity. Shift your perception of how you think about yourself, and change your story from that of a victim to that of a hero. And if you discover that your harshest critic is you, then ease up a bit, acknowledge that no one is perfect, and try a little self-compassion.
Another benefit of being an optimist? They tend to adopt a growth mindset or one in which they believe they can—and will—improve, and see every opportunity as a chance to grow and learn. Plus this attitude helps remind them to be grateful and pay attention to all the good things in their lives, which makes forming grudges nearly impossible.
Luskin’s parting advice on grudges is this: Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to. By changing your perspective and being more adaptable, you’ll up the odds that the occasional career slight, off-hand remark, or petty annoyance won’t plague you.