Disarming the Difficult Coworker

Disarming the Difficult CoworkerIf you have ever worked with a difficult person, you know what a distraction it is when they seem to have it in for you personally.  For the Christian this can be especially challenging.  You’d like to give your abusive coworker a piece of your mind when the talons appear, but you also wish to be tolerant and understanding, wanting to remain positive even if you suspect that roiling underneath the surface of your coworker’s smiling congeniality a leviathan could rise out of a murky mist at any time, and swallow you up whole.

Yet a passive timidity is not to be considered a virtue.  It can actually become a defensive weapon useful only for instilling the quiet conviction that we are setting someone else’s bad behavior into concrete by silence.   Jesus never did that. He told the truth even if it rubbed people the wrong way.  He wanted people to turn away from bad behavior not remain a slave to it. He showed us how it is possible to be humble and meek without being fearful and weak.  Like Jesus, as Christians are called to speak the truth in love when God calls us to do so no matter what the cost.

In my experience, my “Minnesota nice” morphed into an instant doormat reflex that locked my mouth shut and prevented me from standing up for myself just when I needed to. This made me easy picking’s – and as you can imagine, difficult people usually have a rabble roster of easy victims to choose from. Learn not to be one of them.

At a former workplace many years ago, I had to figure out what was it about me that made me a target of a coworkers rage. A customer had just walked in the office and witnessed a package being snatched out of my hand with the words “I’ll do it!” snapped at me with grit teeth by an angry coworker. Eyebrows were raised.  I was forced to confront the reality that Minnesota nice wasn’t working for me or the company anymore, and I decided I had to say something.  After the client left, I made my case as to how humiliating and unprofessional it was to be treated that way in front of a customer. Then I talked to my supervisor about it.  Yes, I suppose you could say I snitched, but  I wanted my boss to know the atmosphere in the front office was turning toxic.

The next day an unbelievable transformation took place.  I discovered that when I stood up for myself, I was treated with respect.  My coworker apologized! I was totally unprepared for hearing my coworker admit to a flaw and offer me a sincere apology.  It is the first time I can remember standing up to an angry coworker and getting respect as a result.  I didn’t have to be mean,  unkind, or nasty about how I presented my case, I just needed to be honest and assertive, and it worked.  Being honest resulted in a mutual respect.  My coworker and I began to understand that neither of our approaches as to how the front office should be run was necessarily right or wrong – just different, because we were different.  Once we accepted each other’s workplace style, we were better able to adapt to each other.

I expected there would relapses, and there was – but now I knew my coworker was as vulnerable as I was, and that made me feel more empathy and less resentment.  I decided to see if I could succeed in totally disarming future confrontations through compliments.  I noted aloud one day how great it was to have “new blood” in the office, and how things seemed to be running so much smoother since my coworker was hired. My compliments were received gladly.  And I noticed the more I complimented, the better I felt about my coworker.   I also grew less concerned about leviathan rising up out of the murky mist and swallowing me up whole.  Soon my coworker and I were getting along like old friends.  I was learning an old truth that “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him,” (Proverbs 16:7 KJV).


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