Do you ever make a mistake at work, or perceive a mistake as a manager, and it overwhelms you with sadness, anxiety, or other negative emotions?
A few weeks ago, I was discussing with my supervisor a situation at work. I ended up overreacting or -as the supervisor said, “catastrophized” the situation. With a bit of introspection, I realized how my reaction was disproportionate to the issue at hand and I felt bad about my misjudgment. I was inclined to retreat and delve in self-blame which would have affected my mood, and productivity. But then I remembered a powerful verse from the Qur’an:
“And He is the Forgiving, the Affectionate” [Qur’an 85: 14]
This transformed my feelings. It replaced the negative self-talk that was playing in my head with self-compassion. I thought if Allah forgives mistakes affectionately, how can we not forgive ourselves in moments of unintended mistakes or perceived failure…? How can we let ourselves drown in negativity when Allah constantly gives us hope and pushes us to move forward?
For some people, negative self-talk after making mistakes can turn into self-torture and lead to depression, anxiety or self-hate even, as well as inhibit their creativity and productivity at work. However, the issue we need to remember is: mistakes happen and will continue to happen in every workplace. This is inevitable and unavoidable.So the real problem is not how to avoid mistakes, but how we deal with them. Click To Tweet
When you make mistakes, how can you deal with the perceived failure so that you can grow as a person and turn an unfortunate event into success? Research has found that we can learn much more in moments of failure than those of success .
I wanted to approach this topic from a spiritual angle – specifically by reflecting on the Beautiful Name of Allah , The Affectionate (Al-Wadud), and how through understanding this Name and its manifestations, we can find solace in those inevitable office blunders.
How Divine Affection in the context of mistakes can lift you up
When you think of affection, what usually comes to your mind? Possibly how you feel towards someone you like or someone you’re in harmony and agreement with. But the question is: will you continue to have affection towards someone who’s done you wrong?
In the Qur’an, the Name of Allah Al-Wadud (The Affectionate, The Source of Affection) is mentioned twice. In both cases, it is not associated with those who’ve done great or has done likable things; it’s mentioned in the context of forgiving sins and mistakes.
“And He is the Forgiving, the Affectionate” [Qur’an 85: 14]
“And ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him. Indeed, my Lord is Merciful and Affectionate.” [Qur’an 11: 90]
In the first verse, notice how Allah specifically added His Name The Affectionate right after the Forgiving. So, it’s not like He’ll forgive but won’t like us anymore. It’s that He forgives simultaneously showing intense affection. There is no “and” for pause or interruption; as though the process of forgiveness did not decrease His Affection one bit or for one second.
When people make mistakes, they don’t expect to be met with affection. They actually expect the opposite and most often receive what they expect. This is because as human beings, we often operate from a scarcity mindset, a mindset that there’s not enough forgiveness and compassion to forgive mistakes. But this is not the Vastness of The Creator, and it’s not the Barakah Culture’s values of gentleness, mercy, and compassion that we aim to adopt in our professional work environments.
Think of the last time a colleague or a team member has done a mistake at work that cost you a great deal. What were your immediate reactions and feelings towards that person?
It is understandable that our most impulsive way to deal with the mistake is to tell the employee off. It takes the anger and frustration off your chest as a manger. It is also a way to make the employee more wary of repeating the same mistake, and it acts as a lesson (or an indirect warning) for the rest of the employees. But while this yields some positive short term results, research shows that it is NOT the most effective and productive way of dealing with mistakes.
Research shows that the most powerful way of dealing with mistakes is actually the most compassionate one [Emma Seppala, Science Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University]. There are several studies that suggest for practitioners (CEOs, top management teams) to practice more acts of compassion if they want to boost job performance of employees. The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science provides multiple research and evidence on how compassion can transform individuals, organizations and teams’ performance. Basically, the studies show that employees who feel compassion are more likely to persevere in challenging tasks than those who’re met with other emotions.
What compassion does is that it increases the employees’ loyalty, trust, and devotion to their work and manager. It creates a greater derive and willpower for success. And the opposite approach leads to the opposite results.
Neuroscience tells us that when we tell people off, a sense of fear and anxiety arise in them, which leads to reducing their creativity. Thus, it acts as a long-term counterproductive approach. According to James Doty, Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, “If people have fear and anxiety, we know from neuroscience that their threat response is engaged, their cognitive control is impacted. As a consequence, their productivity and creativity diminish.” [Psychology Today]
How does that impact you?
Allah knows that when people make mistakes, deep down they’re inclined to not love themselves (and others don’t meet them with affection either), so He reminds us through His Name the Affectionate to re-love ourselves/others in order to grow and continuously learn and improve.
Yes, as people dealing with those who make mistakes, we can never measure up to Allah’s level of affection, but in our spiritual pursuit to connect with Him and seek His Closeness and barakah, we can attempt to reflect His Names more in our lives.
The Name of Allah the Affectionate can teach us to be more compassionate towards others who work with us/under us when they make mistakes. And this actually can bring more barakah professionally.
Compassion: The most powerful way of dealing with mistakes
In the next two sections, we’ll go a bit deeper and be more practical on how a leader should deal with an employees’ mistakes and how an employee should deal with their own mistakes from a spiritual and scientific perspective.
As a leader, how should you deal with mistakes
1. Leniency vs. harshness
Prophet Muhammad said: “The strong man is not the one who wrestles, but the strong man is in fact the one who controls himself in a fit of rage.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Imagine being in a competition with a competitor whose main aim is to destroy you completely. You make a solid plan to win. You approach winning but towards the end, your team violates your instructions and their mistake directly results in your team’s catastrophic loss.
How will you react?
This might be a hypothetical nightmare for you. But it is – more or less- what happened to the Prophet in the battle of Uhud. The believers were defending themselves against those who were out to viciously prosecute and eliminate them and their message entirely from the surface of the earth. Despite early winning, some of the companions disobeyed the clear and direct commands of the Prophet . Their mistake directly led to major defeat as well as the injury of the Messenger of Allah himself.
But did Allah and His Messenger tell them off as a result of this mistake?
If there was a time to act angrily and tell people off, it would have been there and then. But instead, Allah told His Messenger:
“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].” [Qur’an 3: 159]
Pardon them, forgive them and consult them. First, pardon, overlook the mistake because deepening people’s sense of guilt will lead to more despair rather than a willingness to move forward. And research shows that blame, especially the one conducted openly, provokes defensiveness as opposed to enhancing problem-solving tendencies. Then, forgive them as when you supplicate for the forgiveness of others, you internally heal from negative feelings towards them. Then consult them as they are internally inclined to feel ashamed, outcasted and detached, so consulting them makes them feel re-engaged, revalued and accepted.
This teaches leaders to compassionately contain rather than humiliate and exclude their people. And this approach, if adopted, can increase employees’ loyalty, boost their desire to rectify any wrong, and prevent them from immersing in paralyzing guilt, and anxiety.
2. Pardoning & coaching
Your reaction as a leader correcting a mistake can have a deep spiritual, psychological and professional impact on your employees. So, an interesting way to consider while correcting a mistake is what Allah Mercifully says to His Messenger in this verse:
“Allah forgives you (O Muhammad)! But why did you give them leave to stay behind? (You yourself should have not given them leave) so that it would have become clear which of them spoke the truth and which of them invented false excuses.” [Qur’an 9: 43]
When Allah was giving instructions to the Prophet about correcting a certain situation, He started by saying “I forgive you”, then He said what needed to be done. On the other hand, when we correct someone by starting off saying for example: “This is unacceptable…you needed to do so and so” …before even thinking about the instruction you give, the person already feels threatened and expelled. You already aroused fear and anxiety in them, and this will most probably lessen his/her attentiveness and ability to correct the wrong. Imagine instead saying, “may Allah forgive you X…why so and so is happening?” OR, “I forgive you X, but why so and so happened, you needed to do XYZ instead”.
This way, the person knows there is a mistake and they have a healthy level of guilt that urges them to rectify the wrong, but they also still feel included. The situation doesn’t arouse feelings of threat, anxiety, or panic that have a negative impact on their productivity.
3. Do not let a mistake make you forget all the good
It’s important to know and understand that people cannot and will not perform in an excellent productive way all the time and in all situations. Their human nature and the mental/emotional/social circumstances in their lives will affect their performance. They might not open up to you about what is going wrong in their lives, but you can observe it in their performance and reactions.
Allah Himself is telling people that if they sincerely believe and actively attempt to do their best, He will judge them by the best of what they used to do and overlook their misdeeds.
“And those who believe and do righteous deeds – We will surely remove from them their misdeeds and will surely reward them according to the best of what they used to do.” [Qur’an 29: 7]
“That Allah may remove from them the worst of what they did and reward them their due for the best of what they used to do.” [Qur’an 39:35]
This is not a license to make mistakes. This is to say that if someone has a good record of doing well; it’s courteous to not let the mistakes they make out of their human nature make you forget all the good they presented.
Tip: if you do notice an unexpected shift in the performance/attitude of an employee, instead of thinking about the work retaliation, think about the human connection and their human condition. Either speak with the person directly in a friendly way checking on their health and life or find someone in the team most suited to do that. Maybe they’re going through a tribulation that is burdening them and just feeling that someone cares can lift the burden up a bit and boost their morale, and in turn boost their performance and loyalty to you and their work.
4. If you are merciful, you’ll be shown mercy
The Prophet said: The Compassionate One has mercy on those who are merciful. If you show mercy to those who are on the earth, He Who is in the heaven will show mercy to you. [Sunan Abi Dawud]
It’s important for us to remember that maybe we are in a position of control now and we can choose to show mercy and compassion or not. But, what goes around comes around. There will come a time when we too will need mercy. So what we plant for ourselves now is what we will reap later.
5. Do not harm or reciprocate harm with harm
A major rule in Islam is – as the Prophet said- “Do not cause harm, nor respond to harm with harm”. Be mindful not to harm people with words or actions. A word you might say casually or mindlessly to an employee can make them sleepless for days or scar them for years.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, “A slave (of Allah) may utter a word which pleases Allah without giving it much importance, and because of that Allah will raise him to degrees (of reward): a slave (of Allah) may utter a word (carelessly) which displeases Allah without thinking of its gravity and because of that he will be thrown into the Hell-Fire.” [Sahih Al Bukhari]
So be careful with the words said in meetings, emails, or messages in whatever work platform you use. Your words can increase employees’ engagement and commitment, or it can lead to the opposite.
“I served the Prophet for 10 years, and he never said to me, “Uf” (a minor harsh word denoting impatience) and never blamed me by saying, “Why did you do so or why didn’t you do so?” [Sahih al Bukhari]
This doesn’t mean to not take disciplinary actions if/when needed. If for some reason after coaching and training someone seemed to be unfit for the role, then you can let the person go in a dignified way without emotionally or psychologically damaging them.
Sadly, there are many reported cases of workplace bullying harboring mental and psychological health problems for those involved. Research shows that among the forms of bullying is judging a person’s work unjustly or in an offending manner, as well as restricting a person’s possibilities to express his or her opinions. An initiative concerned with workplace bullying, the Workplace Bullying Institute, reports that the majority of workplace bullying is conducted by bosses.
In the Islamic tradition, major emphasis is put on how someone in power should treat those under him. We can recall here, for example, that Abu Mas’ud Al Ansari said,
“I was beating a slave of mine when I heard a voice from behind me saying “Beware, O Abu Mas’ud! Beware, O Abu Mas’ud! Allah has more power over you than you have over him [Allah is able to call you to account for this slave].’ I turned around and there was the Messenger of Allah . I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, he is free for the sake of Allah!’ He said, ‘If you had not done that, the Fire would have touched you (or the Fire would have burned you).” [Sahih Muslim]
Just thinking about it, if, as the Prophet said, “removing harmful objects from people’s way in the road” is a level of faith as per a hadith, then how about removing the harm from people’s hearts, minds, and souls at work and beyond?
People have honor and dignity Divinely granted to them. As Allah says:
“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.” [Qur’an 17: 70]
So we are not allowed to humiliate the people whom Allah honored. Even when taking rightful disciplinary actions against them, it must always maintain their honor and dignity.
And treating people honorably, in-and-of-itself is a rewarded act of worship for you that brings you peace and blessings. Yes, some people make nasty mistakes. But consider this situation…
A man walks into the noblest, most holy, most sacred place of worshipping God, and then takes off his pants and urinates in it! How would you react?
This is something that the Prophet dealt with, and notice his calmness and compassion in dealing with the man who did that. Abu Hurairah reported:
A bedouin urinated in the mosque and some people rushed to beat him up. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Leave him alone and pour a bucket of water over it. You have been sent to make things easy and not to make them difficult.” [Al-Bukhari]
The Seerah (biography of the Prophet) is filled with lessons on how the Prophet meets ignorant behavior with compassion and forbearance. One of my favorite incidents, for example, is this:
Anas b. Malik reported: I was walking with the Messenger of Allah and he had put on a mantle with a thick border. A Bedouin met him and pulled the mantle so violently that I saw the violent pulling leaving marks of the border of the mantle on the skin of the neck of the Messenger of Allah . And he (the Bedouin) said: Muhammad, issue command that I should be given out of the wealth of Allah which is at your disposal. The Messenger of Allah turned his attention to him and smiled, and then ordered for him a gift (provision). [Sahih Muslim]
The Prophet didn’t get offended nor did he react to the violent, ignorant behavior of that Bedouin. He calmly, mercifully and compassionately just smiled and helped him.
You might say that “this is the Prophet. I’m not a prophet, I can’t and I’m not expected to do that.” But in reality, Allah did not send an angel who we can’t emulate. Allah sent a messenger from us, a human being like us, to live the life we need to live in order to be our best self—if we want to live up to the best version of ourselves.
“There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.” [Qur’an 33: 21]
“Certainly did Allah confer [great] favor upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.” [Qur’an 3: 164]
Thoughts for employees in dealing with mistakes
The discussion here is by no means an invitation for people to deliberately make mistakes, slack off giving their best at work or become passive and indifferent about their mistakes. Rather, remembering the Affectionate forgiveness of Allah is a means to help you deal with negative/destructive emotions that prevent you from pulling yourself up and moving forward productively.
It is important to know that you should not dwell in sadness or lose hope. There is always always a chance to rebuild yourself. Remember that sadness is one of the key tools of Satan…
“…that he may grieve those who have believed” [Qur’an 58: 10]
Satan wants you to lose hope and give up, but Allah wants you to have faith and He will help you move forward. So, do not grieve.
Even if a mistake led to you getting fired, Allah is still the Provider and He is The Affectionately Forgiving. The Barakah of Allah can open for you doors from where you never expected.
“…And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out. And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent. [Qur’an 65: 2-3]
Most importantly, researchers tell us that among the healthy ways of coping with failure is to make a plan to move forward. And the verses about the Name of Allah, The Affectionate, already gives us a plan. Allah says in the other verse mentioning His Name the Affectionate:
“And ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him. Indeed, my Lord is Merciful and Affectionate.” [Qur’an 11: 90]
We know in the Islamic tradition that repentance has conditions and a plan to be accepted, which is to:
- Regret the mistake (don’t be indifferent about it)
- Stop the mistake, and
- Sincere desire to not repeat the mistake and rectify the wrong.
So, the verse gives us the plan:
Ask forgiveness = apologize for the wrong
And then repent = Stop the wrong don’t make it worse, try to fix and not repeat as much as you can.
This is a plan of action instead of submitting to panic or paralyzing guilt.
Divine Affection means that Allah will forgive your wrong directly and affectionately once you seek it no matter how many times it’s repeated AND encourage you to be better so you won’t destroy yourself or others along the way. Not only that, but Allah also promises:
“Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – the Most Merciful will appoint for them affection” [Qur’an 19: 96]
So not only will He forgive, but since Allah is The Creator and Controller of hearts, He will appoint for you affection in the hearts of the right people once you start seeking rectification of the mistakes. You might find that people will love you and/or open doors for you without you even knowing how it happened.
This is Divine Affection that soothes the person and encourages self-betterment. It is holistic guidance to transform the person internally and externally.
Remember the work story I mentioned at the beginning of this article about “catastrophizing” a situation and feeling bad about it?
Well, after remembering the verse, I also remembered the Divine process:
- I am affectionately forgiven by The Most High Himself (this helped me internally);
- I can then do what’s within my capacity to correct the situation and maybe do something extra as well to make up for the lapse —which I did, and things went back to being peaceful internally and externally.
- And it was then when I decided to write a reflection piece on the Name of Allah, The Affectionate and its implications to help anyone who may benefit from the reminder or the reassurance.
The discussion here is for us to think about how the Barakah values of gentleness and compassion can fill the workplace with more peace and productivity rather than stress and anxiety. To cement this learning, answer the following questions:
- When you make a mistake, are you able to affectionately forgive yourself, apologize and take actions to rectify the problem? Or, are you more inclined to run away, hide, not face people and/ or give up and ruin everything else further?
- When a team member fails you, instead of blame and criticism, how can you affectionately and compassionately contain and help reform the person’s behavior?
If you’re looking for a place to practically learn more about the Barakah values and mindsets, then check our Barakah Academy.
The Barakah Academy is your online platform to train with professionals who want to learn practical personal and professional development skills that are faith-based and linked with the latest research and science. It’s your global community of like-hearted professionals who want to live a better version of themselves spiritually, physically and socially.
 Healthline. Negative Self-Talk: What it is & How to Deal
 Cannon, M., & Edmondson, A. C. (2005). Failing to Learn and Learning to Fail (Intelligently): how great organizations put failure to work to innovate and improve. Long Range Planning, 38(3), 232. doi: 10.1016/j.lrp.2005.04.011
 Hur, W., Moon, T., and Rhee, S. (2016), “Exploring the relationships between compassion at work, the evaluative perspective of positive work-related identity, service employee creativity, and job performance”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 103-114. doi: 10.1108/JSM-05-2014-0180
 Tjosvold, D., Yu, Z., & Hui, C. (2004). Team Learning from Mistakes: The Contribution of Cooperative Goals and Problem-Solving. Journal of Management Studies, 41(7), 1223-1245. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00473.x
 Vartia, M. A. (2001). Consequences of workplace bullying with respect to the well-being of its targets and the observers of bullying. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 27(1), 63-69. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.588