Disappointments are a part of being human and are common in our daily lives. At the workplace, this can look like being passed over for a promotion, being saddled with work on a particular group project, or having someone else take credit for your idea. Instances like this can cause friction among co-workers and between managers and teams. But unresolved disappointments that fester into grudges are detrimental to the group dynamic, morale, and even productivity.

Cambridge Dictionary defines a grudge as “a strong feeling of anger and dislike for a person who you feel has treated you badly, especially one that lasts for a long time.”

Why grudges are poisonous

Grudges don’t develop immediately. Replaying an incident over and over again, reliving an experience that was humiliating or painful, and harboring ill-feelings towards the person/people involved in that event is what nurses a grudge. There are two main ways grudge-holding is poisonous.

  1. It affects our mental health. Holding a grudge against someone you may meet often at the office causes you to relive feelings of anxiety, anger, etc. It immediately causes physiological changes in your body such as increased blood pressure, erratic breathing, and dysregulated emotions.
  2. It interferes with our work. Frequently experiencing this kind of heightened emotional state and intrusive thoughts about the grudge depletes our energy, affects productivity at work, reduces how connected we feel with others, creates an uncomfortable work environment, and lowers morale.

Letting that grudge go

People who self-regulate effectively can often reframe disappointments as opportunities to build resilience, renew motivation, or change tack. Here are some ways to work through grudges.

  • Separate how an incident made you feel from how you feel about the person involved. Grudges are directed towards people, whereas disappointments are usually about a situation. By disconnecting the person from what happened, we can better understand the true feelings about the incident.
  • Acknowledge the intrusive thoughts and hurt. Often, people with grudges are stuck in the moment with thoughts that scream, “He shouldn’t have done that!” or “I should have said no!” By first simply accepting that the incident did happen, we can release some of the agony and start the process of moving on and forgiveness.
  • Get closure. This looks like different things for different people. For some, it may involve approaching the person involved – say in the case of someone taking credit for your work. Some guidelines here would be to avoid making accusations and using confrontational language (like pointing fingers, laying blame, and using ‘you’-heavy sentences). Rather, be assertive (narrate the incident, identify feelings, and ask for a behaviour change). In other cases, working through a grudge could simply involve changing our approach from a ‘victim mindset’ of the situation to taking back control or power by improving communication, being brave, and practising accountability.

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than hanging on.” – Eckhart Tolle

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