Think of the person at work that gets on your nerves. Sometimes they use their speakerphone in the cube farm. Other times, they seem to undermine every suggestion you make.
How do you deal with that person?
Being an example of godly character in the workplace is easy when people get along and everything is going well. But that’s not the consistent reality in most workplaces.
Although Scripture doesn’t provide a checklist of self-help steps for dealing with workplace conflict, there are clear principles in the Bible that can help.
Pray for the Person Making Life Difficult
Jesus gives some clear ethical instructions in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells his audience, “Pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44) Although persecution may be an exaggeration for the annoying officemate, if active persecution should result in prayer, then inconsiderate aggravation probably warrants it, too.
Praying does a few things. First, it places the responsibility for the situation into God’s hands. We don’t have to make things work out, we can entrust the outcome to God. Second, praying may help you see things through the other person’s eyes. Sometimes being in the presence of God through prayer changes our perspective and can help us see our own sin, leading to a shift in our attitude and behavior. Third, prayer can encourage us to forgive the other person. It is difficult to come before the God who has forgiven our sins with an unforgiving attitude.
Continue to Love the Person Getting Under Your Skin
The other half of Matthew 5:44 records Jesus telling the crowd to love their enemies. Prayer can help us to do that, but we’ve got to want to love the people that do us harm.
Choosing not to retaliate. Instead, showing a consistent pattern of loving behavior toward your coworkers is the most obvious way of demonstrating Christian character around the office. When the natural reaction would be to push back or to lash out, nothing seems odder than to continue being kind. This is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the hope we have in Christ, which we should be prepared to defend (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).
We will rarely actually feel like loving our enemies, in which case we must choose to act in a way that is loving. Often feelings will follow our obedience.
Be at Peace
In Romans 12:18, Paul instructs his readers, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Sometimes people don’t give us the opportunity to live peaceably. There are times when behavior in the workplace needs to be addressed through human resources or calm, personal confrontation. We should have the courage to seek justice when the situation warrants it.
At the same time, our goal should be to avoid contributing to the problem. Sometimes that means staying clear of situations that will lead to confrontations. Other times it may mean not responding in kind to sharp words or sneaky actions. It always means not holding a grudge for previous wrongs that have been resolved.
Take the Long View
Framing these three principles for dealing with workplace conflict is the necessity of taking a long-term view of the situation. It’s hard to be patient and allow things to work out over time. And yet, that is exactly what we often need to do with workplace conflict. Applying these principles won’t usually lead to an instant change in our workplace.
People can change, but it takes time. That’s true for us as we seek to grow in Christian character. It’s true for coworkers who may begin to recognize the need to change behaviors but struggle with overcoming their bad habits. Often we need to give people space, time, and sometimes frequent reminders as they seek to refine their actions.
More significantly, winning today’s office conflict may cost more in the long run than being gracious. Coworkers and supervisors will notice when we don’t escalate minor disagreements. Over time, this provides evidence of the value of our Christian character and makes us more desirable to work with.
Working with other people is often the hardest thing that we do. It is also one tasks that Christians should be better suited to do well. Only one who knows Christ and has been united with him in his death, burial, and resurrection can truly show Christ-like love in the face of wrongdoing and a willingness to forgive. God’s grace can help us to abound in grace toward others.