Many believers I know desire to work for a ministry or Christian company someday. Their goal is to work in an environment with praise music playing, co-workers praying and Scripture verses beautifully calligraphied on wall plaques. They imagine such a workplace as holy, peaceful and devoid of that common problem: difficult co-workers.
I wish this were the case, but until our Lord comes back we will always have some level of difficulty relating to co-workers, whether Christian or not. I have traveled the length and breadth of this nation and most of the world, worked with Christians and non-Christians alike and believe me, there is little difference in how personnel operate under pressure.
Disagreements, arguments, conflicts, tempers, grudges and gossip often affect churches, ministries and Christian organizations as much as any other office. Pettiness, greed, ambition and favoritism all creep in as the enemy fires his darts and hopes to create a flame.
We would like to think that as believers, our faith allows us to work without strain or tension, but that is simply not the case. We are not perfect, and so if we are going to survive our hostile work environments then we must increase our capacity to work with difficult personalities, regardless of the kind of workplace in which we’re placed.
ACT LIKE A PRO
I’m afraid that as Christians we are often contributing more to the problems in office relationships than to their solutions. Others observe our behavior and our testimony suffers because of poor work ethics, long breaks, lengthy personal phone calls, reading the Bible on company time and so on. But the very worst thing is that we often alienate ourselves as an elite group of people and leave others feeling somehow less than us.
Though our personal preference plays into who we choose as friends, the workplace is not an appropriate setting for enforcing our own set of rules on who counts and who doesn’t, on who matters and who doesn’t, on who we might hang out with or totally avoid. This is so dangerous!
Work is not the setting for establishing relationships. Save that for the ladies’ home fellowship or the church picnic. A workplace, especially today, includes diverse ethnic groups, cultures, religions and even sexual orientations.
You have to be able to work with people you might not relate to personally. An employee must develop a professional attitude, one in which personal opinions of any individual do not come into play.
If you allow God to enlarge your understanding of people and work relationships, you may be ready to have Him enlarge your territory. God won’t give you something you are not ready to handle, but He does want to expose you to greater things and greater ways of managing life.
We need to apply the wisdom of the Bible to contemporary situations. David had that sought-after ability to work effectively with difficult people. It doesn’t get much more challenging than working with someone who has an “evil spirit troubling him” (see 1 Sam. 16:14-23).
Saul was that challenge for David, yet David blessed Saul. David didn’t limit himself and he surely didn’t limit God! Getting his eyes off of people, being neither impressed nor depressed by them, afforded David unlimited opportunities because he freed them up to be used by God.
Learn to work with difficult people; the very challenge you have today may be the one who tomorrow determines your promotion. Conversely, sweet Sally may be the very one who informs the boss that you walked in six seconds late one morning. Learn to remain not aloof but professional, and depend on God to reward you.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
How do you cultivate a professional attitude? Begin by keeping your eyes on your objective. Are you selling windows? Then don’t walk into a customer’s house and offer unsolicited advice about their décor.
Limit yourself to what you are called to do. People can be easily offended, and by speaking about areas outside your expertise-what your customer has solicited your help in-you can jeopardize your opportunity to make a sale.
Another way to maintain your professionalism is to treat everyone fairly and equally. You will naturally find some customers, co-workers and administrators easier to work with than others. But if you show favoritism by being kind and respectful to only those you like, then you are in for trouble-if not now then down the road.
Try not to take things personally, even when unhappy co-workers intend for them to hurt you. Remember that you are so much more than just an office manager, a temp worker, a high school science teacher, an accounts manager, or an advertising executive.
Work to live; don’t live to work! You must learn to let go of grudges and to set aside past histories with some of your co-workers.
When you find your emotions flaring and you’re tempted to react, stop yourself and remember what’s really going on: You’re in the midst of a battle and the first shots have just been fired. This is the time to say a silent prayer, remember your true calling, and respond with patience and a professionalism that will astound those around you.
If you are not easily ruffled by difficult personalities, then you will increase your ability to remain cool in the heat of the battle. Your decisions will be more objective and levelheaded and you will be able to keep the work goals in mind as opposed to operating out of your personal moods and preferences.
OIL AND WATER
It’s helpful to understand some of the dynamics that contribute to interpersonal friction on the job. Like trying to mix oil and water by shaking the bottle again and again, many Christians believe that if they just act nice around difficult personalities that eventually those people will change and become nice too.
But “nice” doesn’t always cut it, especially when you use it to avoid confrontation and direct communication. True kindness isn’t afraid to look someone in the eye and tell him or her the truth, even if we know that this isn’t what he or she wants to hear. You will garner much more respect for yourself and your beliefs if you act on kindness and honesty rather than “niceness.”
Unfortunately, school doesn’t teach conflict resolution; churches don’t either. Often we do not learn it at home, so we step into workplaces either unwilling to confront, or-at the other extreme-unwilling to resolve conflicts. If conflict is not dealt with, it can manifest as obnoxious attitudes and discontentment.
Are you able to resolve conflicts, simply and efficiently, seeking out the common good? When confronted, can you listen to what the other person is saying or do you talk over them, debating or defending yourself?