Forgiveness has been regarded as a sign of power, yet empirical evidence is mixed. This research seeks to resolve this inconsistency by looking into how and from whom forgiveness is expressed. Integrating theories on forgiveness, communication, and gender role, we hypothesized and found, in two experiments, that a third party’s perception of forgiver power is jointly influenced by forgiveness expression (explicit vs. implicit) and forgiver gender. Female forgivers were perceived as less powerful than their male counterparts when forgivers expressed implicit forgiveness, whereas this gender difference was not found when forgivers expressed explicit forgiveness. Perceived forgiver power, in turn, positively influenced third parties’ cooperation with the forgiver in subsequent interaction. This research represents an initial step to understanding forgiveness from a communication perspective. It demonstrates the social implications of forgiveness on uninvolved third parties. Our findings also resonate with several others in showing that forgiveness does not always yield interpersonal benefits.
- third-party perspective