Have you ever noticed that no matter how strong you get from exercising, you always have to put down the weight? It eventually becomes too heavy to lift, and you no longer have the energy to do anything but struggle with it.
People with the Futuristic talent theme from StrengthsFinder are especially talented at visioneering what could be. ...
Welcome back to Season 1, Episode 5 of the Convene Podcast. This week, Greg Leith sat down with Brad Dacus from the Pacific Justice Institute. PJI's mission is to defend religious freedom...without charge, and they’ve been doing so since 1997. In this episode, they discuss questions like: How do you boldly stand for Christ in the center of the workplace? What is legal and what is off-limits in terms of evangelism? What are the laws regarding how a Christian CEO leads his or her company?
While we all have “good days” and “bad days,” some people seem to be characterologically more difficult on a regular basis than others. Sometimes this seems to be “who they are” from a personality point of view—they have a rather negative mindset, they’re grumpy, they don’t smile much and just have a “dark cloud” that follows them around. There are others who recently seem more “touchy” and easily offended than they usually are. Their moodiness can be confusing to others (and offensive as well!). As a psychologist, I’ve become aware that many people tend to attribute others’ behavior and reactions (or even general life events) to their own actions. That is, we, in general, tend to attribute our actions as the cause for other events or reactions happening. Often, this is not the case. In fact, there is fairly good research showing that people tend to over attribute their influence on the world around them (and even their own lives). (By the way, this is the basis of superstitions—developing a habit of wearing the same shirt, jeans and sitting in the same place that you did when your team won a big game, hoping it will bring “luck” and they’ll win again.)
While I am usually an advocate for individuals taking a look at their own behavior and accepting responsibility for their actions, in this case, I actually believe it’s best to put ourselves and our actions at the “back of the line” with regards to the potential reasons why our co-workers may seem prickly and easily offended.
Here are some alternative reasons to explore why your colleague may seem rather testy and annoyed.
- They don’t feel well. Often people become surlier when they don’t feel well physically. This can come from lack of sleep, a medical issue they’re dealing with or chronic pain. It may be that they have started to struggle with migraines, lower back pain, or some other issue. Many employees don’t talk about how they feel physically and so those of us around them don’t really know that they don’t feel well.
- Personal issues. When we are dealing with stressful issues in our life, the emotional resources demanded to deal with these issues is significant and essentially we get “worn out.” Again, many people won’t share about personal issues (especially if they are not asked) and so there can be something going on “in the background” of your colleague’s life that you don’t know about. This could include marital or relationship difficulties, struggles with their children or adolescents, financial pressures, extended family issues (parents-in-laws, etc.). When we feel pressed in our personal life, many of us become more annoyed at work in response to what would otherwise be a normal demand.
- When we feel anxious or fearful. Irritability (a mild form of being angry or upset) can be a “cover” for other underlying thoughts and emotions. In our culture, many people have been taught (either directly or indirectly) that it’s not appropriate to express negative feelings—either at all, or in the workplace. Therefore, they try to keep those feelings inside. One common feeling that’s “kept in” is anxiety and fear. Our culture has shaped most of us to believe that it’s not acceptable to be anxious or fearful. Therefore, we tend to suppress our feelings and the anxiety is expressed through being prickly and grouchy in response to other people.
- When we are frustrated. Sometimes people become crabby when they’re frustrated either with their life, their job or some specific issue going on at work. “Frustrated” is an interesting word because it is used in two different ways in our culture. In many settings when someone is “frustrated” it is a nice way of saying they are a little bit angry. The other meaning of “frustrated” is to feel blocked—that you can’t get to the goal you are trying to achieve. Frustration can lead us to react negatively to any situation, regardless of whether it’s directly related to the issue about which we are frustrated. (That is, we react in a quick-tempered manner to a situation that’s not directly related to what we are frustrated about.)
- Not feeling valued. When employees don’t feel valued either by their supervisor, the management, or their colleagues, then a common response is for them to become increasingly irritable, moody, and easily offended. One type of “frustration” is when we believe our colleagues should value what we do and contribute, but we don’t seem to hear much positive feedback. In our work with the 5 Languages of Appreciation, we help individuals identify their primary language of appreciation; that is, the way in which they prefer to receive appreciation. Interestingly, we also found that employees are most easily offended when a message is sent (unintentionally!) via their primary language that hurts them in some way. For example, people for whom verbal praise is valued are also quite sensitive to any critique or criticism. Or, those who value quality time are easily offended when they feel left out.
How should you respond?
While it is helpful to know possible reasons for the surliness of your colleagues, the question remains: “What should I do?”
A helpful response could be:
“I notice that you seem somewhat more easily annoyed recently. Are you okay? Is there anything going on that would be helpful for me to know about?”
Conversely, it is not helpful to be accusatory or speak in a “factual” tone of voice saying: “You have been incredibly grouchy lately! What’s up?”
Rather, frame your response in the sense of: “It seems…” or “I’ve noticed…” which makes your comment a bit softer. Then asking a question that communicates concern for them (“Are you okay?”) is helpful.
Be forewarned, you may or may not get a positive response (especially immediately). Try not to react in a defensive or antagonistic way. In fact, often a colleague may come back to you later and explain what’s going on after they have thought about your inquiry and concern for them.
Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. - Isaiah 42: 1-3 (NLT)
Miscommunication occurs daily, if not hourly, in the workplace and marketplace. Lack of clear and concise communication leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding, which can ultimately lead to confrontation.
Being a humble servant of God does not mean that you can’t be confrontational. The key is in the way in which you manage the situation and communication with the people with whom God leads you to confront. Notice that I emphasize here that we should be led by God in our confrontations with others as opposed to just being led by our personal agenda, anger, frustration, or other selfish inclinations of the flesh. If God desires for you to confront someone, He will send the Holy Spirit to encourage and guide you. And He will provide the appropriate opportunity and setting.
When we are led by God to confront someone, it’s critical that we approach confrontations in a respectful manner regardless of whether we are dealing with a person who is a colleague, a superior, or a subordinate. Galatians 6:1-10 encourages us to always seek to do good for one another and to confront or restore others with a spirit of gentleness.
Let’s consider our professional coach and role model, Jesus, as an example. Jesus was confrontational. The Bible describes numerous incidents in which Jesus confronted others, but He was confrontational in a respectful way that conveyed kindness, wisdom, and compassion. For instance, when Jesus corrected Martha in Luke 10:38-42, He did so in a kind and respectful manner, saying:
Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.
- Luke 10:41-42 (NKJV)
In this passage, Jesus employs a 3-step process when He confronts Martha by:
- Acknowledging feelings and concerns (e.g., “you are worried and troubled”).
- Sharing godly wisdom and advice (e.g., “only one thing is needed”).
- Offering practical suggestions and examples to enhance learning (e.g., “Mary has chosen that good part").
Another example of the confrontation methods of Jesus involves times when He healed individuals who were blind and mute and cast demons out of others. The Pharisees had the audacity to question His ability to cast out demons without the help of a demon (Matthew 12:22-30; Mark 3: 20-27)! In this particular case, Jesus used the same approach He used with Martha in confronting the Pharisees to help them understand how preposterous their questions and comments were.
In confronting the Pharisees, Jesus, 1) acknowledges their feelings and concerns by asking them a number of thought-provoking questions such as, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”(Mark 3:23, NKJV).
He then, 2) shares godly wisdom with them regarding the fact that “if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:25-28, NKJV).
And Jesus, 3) offers practical suggestions to the Pharisees by clearly affirming truth and encouraging them to be with Him and not against Him, because this is the only way to achieve forgiveness and eternal salvation (Matthew 12:30-32).
How might you leverage the 3-step confrontation process of Jesus with your colleagues, employees, clients, customers, suppliers, and others?
Jesus is a living testament of the effectiveness of following God’s communication guidelines and confronting others in truth, peace, and wisdom. His three-step confrontation process of acknowledging feelings, sharing wisdom, and offering practical suggestions worked for Him, and it will work for you. It is a wise, straightforward, and powerful approach that you can use during those times when God leads you to confront others.