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Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Demonstrating Compassion and Practicing Forgiveness

Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. Vossler, and Eliza P. Shea

Cultivating a positive work culture increases employee productivity and happiness. Two important strategies—demonstrating compassion and practicing forgiveness—eliminate the potential for harm to a business by negative culture.

Demonstrating compassion:

Media outlets and academic journals are sharing information on the scientific reasons compassion is so important to our lives (and businesses). [1] What we’ve learned from these studies is families in business together can practice compassion by encouraging one other, providing emotional support, and giving time off from work. 

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s CompassionLab have found that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees nurture individual and organizational resilience that helps in managing challenges. [2]

Practicing forgiveness

While the scientific study of forgiveness is nascent, the work so far demonstrates the power of forgiveness, including in helping to heal emotional wounds and, by reducing stress, accompanying physical ailments. [3]

These studies show that families and businesses who don’t practice forgiveness stay mired in negativity, causing continuing pain, suffering, and damage to the business by time spent focusing on the hurt rather than pursuing opportunities that could be important to the business. Practicing forgiveness in a family business can sometimes mean the difference between passing the business down to another generation or having to sell or close it. Successful families know the importance of forgiveness and have learned how to forgive each other.


[1] See, e.g., Shimul Melwani et al., Looking Down: The Influence of Contempt and Compassion on Emergent Leadership Categorizations, 97 J. Applied Psychol. 1171 (2012); Aneil K. Mishra et al., Downsizing the Company Without Downsizing Morale, MIT Sloan Mgmt. R. (Apr. 1, 2009), http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/downsizing-the-company-without-downsizing-morale (noting the importance of compassion during corporate downsizing); Emma Seppala, 10 (Science-Based) Reasons Why Compassion is Hot, Huffington Post: The Blog, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/project-compassion-stanford/compassion_b_1676485.html (last updated Sept. 17, 2012).

[2] See CompassionLab, Leadership And Compassion, Univ. Michigan, http://www.bus.umich.edu/facultyresearch/research/TryingTimes/compassion.htm (last visited Mar. 20, 2017). Stanford University also has a Center for Compassion. See The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stan. Univ., http://ccare.stanford.edu/about/mission-vision (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

[3] Stanford University has established a center to focus on the power of forgiveness. Frederic Luskin, The Art and Science of Forgiveness, Stan. Medicine (1999), http://sm.stanford.edu/archive/stanmed/1999summer/forgiveness.html. For more information on the emerging study of forgiveness, see generally Alex H. S. Harris et al., Effects of a Group Forgiveness Intervention on Forgiveness, Perceived Stress, and Trait Anger, 62 J. Clinical Psychol.  715 (2006).