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Parables for Business Success: The Unforgiving Servant

From time to time someone comes up with a new "business parable." Perhaps the most successful example in recent history is Who Moved My Cheese?, a tale of dealing with change. In fact, an Amazon.com search of "business parable" results in more than a dozen current books. Each of them will lead you to additional options.

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From time to time someone comes up with a new “business parable.” Perhaps the most successful example in recent history is Who Moved My Cheese?, a tale of dealing with change. In fact, an Amazon.com search of “business parable” results in more than a dozen current books. Each of them will lead you to additional options.

But lest we forget, there’s a large collection of parables available for businesses to use free of charge: The Parables of Jesus.

I’ve always enjoyed the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The entire parable is quoted below, but here’s a summary:

A king decided to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed him a large sum, but could not pay it. The king ordered that the servant and his entire family be sold to pay the debt.

The servant begged for patience and promised to repay the debt in full. At this, the king was moved to compassion and forgave the debt.

The servant left and happened to run into a fellow-servant who owed him a much smaller amount of money. He became violent and demanded immediate payment. The follow-servant begged for patience and promised to repay the debt in full. Unlike the king, however, the servant was not forgiving. He had his fellow-servant thrown into prison.

When the king found out what had happened, he was very angry. He had the unforgiving servant arrested, thrown into prison, and tortured until the original debt was repaid.

So what has all of this to do with modern business? Quite a bit, actually. The core lesson here is the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Perhaps the best example is to be found around business policies and practices.

Think about this: Your business makes a customer service mis-step. Your customer is angry and frustrated and wants good customer service now. Of course you want to give good customer service. So you bend over backwards to do the right thing. Ideally, your customer will see that you’re trying to help and will focus on a mutually-acceptable solution.

At this moment, you are also frustrated, and you need a little understanding from your customer.

Now turn it around. Let’s say you have a complaint. When you’re angry and frustrated, you want good customer service. Unfortunately, large businesses seem incapable of giving good customer service. Telephone loops, hand-offs, excuses, and no one seems to have the job of caring about your business. You get more angry and more frustrated.

How do you act? Do you act the way you want your customers to act? Or do you yell and scream and generally abuse the customer service rep?

Another example might be in the area of employee-manager relations. Do you treat your staff the way you want to be treated by your manager?

Of course there are many other areas to apply this lesson. In general, think about the areas where you ask a favor or courtesy from others. Do you extend that favor or courtesy when asked?

Some areas of life are just plain frustrating. Perhaps the best we can hope for is balance: If we practice patience and compassion with those we deal with, perhaps we can improve the changes that they’ll do the same for us.

And don’t beat yourself up over this. There will always be another opportunity to practice the behavior of treating other people with compassion and respect. So, if you blow your top today, just take note and work on being more mindful next time.

No one reaches perfection right away.
Remember, we’re all works in progress.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Matthew 18:23-35

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying him back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe.” Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you? Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart. 
“They who forgive most,shall be most forgiven.”
— Josiah W. Bailey

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Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

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