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How to drop a work grudge
When work disappointments become work grudges, you get caught in an unproductive – and unhealthy – trap. Here are 5 ways to take control and move on
Perhaps you were passed over for an important project. Maybe a colleague repeatedly interrupts you during client meetings. Or maybe someone is talking up their pet project to the whole company and ignoring your team’s work – yet again.
Ruminating about these slights once or twice isn’t a problem, but when your mind replays the event over and over again, a work grudge is born. By using your emotional intelligence, you can move on.
Grudges are identified by persistent feelings of ill will or resentment that result from something that happened in the past – and they’re all too common in workplaces, says Nancy Colier, psychotherapist and author of The Power of Off.
“When you hold a grudge, you’re walking around in this self-defeating universe of your own construction. When you’re in that place, you don’t have access to your best self – your creativity, kindness, or productivity,” she says. “That resentment becomes an obstacle to doing good work. It’s like lighting yourself on fire and expecting the other person to die of smoke inhalation.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the effects of holding a grudge can be serious. Mentally, it can result in your inability to enjoy the present, losing connectedness with others, and feeling that your life lacks purpose. Physically, grudges can lead to depression and anxiety and upset your body’s balance of cortisol and oxytocin, which is linked to disease, Psychology Today explains.
[ Build your EQ. Read also: 7 soft skills leaders wish they’d learned sooner. ]
Moving on from a work grudge, however, can promote positive emotions that improve decision making, cognitive functioning, and the quality of workplace relationships, Colier says. Consider these five steps to get you there:
1. Identify the slight’s roots
If you weren’t consulted on a decision that impacts your team, for example, explore why this slight hurts so much – maybe it stems from feelings of incompetence or ineptitude you experienced earlier in your life, for example. The root cause of your current pain is often derived from older incidents and feelings, Colier says.
“Ask yourself why you’re feeling wronged and what about it is triggering you,” she suggests. “Work your way backwards. Maybe that slight makes you feel like you’re not important or smart enough. Often the core wound is not far from the surface.”
Knowing exactly how you feel about what happened – and being able to articulate what about the situation is not okay – is key to moving on, according to Frederic Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects. Once you’ve done this, consider sharing your experience with a few trusted people, he suggests.
2. Dissociate your hurt from the person
Grudges are centered around the people who wronged you – but that shouldn’t be your focus, Colier says.
“It’s paralyzing when you center your anger and hurt on the other person. They have full control over you,” she says. “Instead, make this moment about being kind to yourself and acknowledging what happened and why it made you feel that way.”
That might be as simple as acknowledging that the grudge against your coworker has taken over your thoughts.
Obtaining this perspective is essential, Luskin says. “Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical upset you are suffering now – not what offended you or hurt you two minutes or ten years ago.”
3. Write a script
Humans have a tendency to cling to suffering, Colier explains. You might find yourself going about your day when suddenly your brain reminds you of that one time so-and-so talked over you during an important board meeting.
“One reason why the mind does this is because it’s trying to end the situation differently, as if it can reframe it,” she says.
To consciously reframe the situation, think about what you need to hear from the source of your grudge to make your experience better. Write it down, then speak it to yourself.
“Give yourself the words you need to hear, then think about how they make you feel,” Colier says. “What is freed within you when you hear those words? Use this tool as an investigation.”