top of page

Loving Kindness at Work: Dealing with Difficult People

One of the most stressful things about work is dealing with conflict, whether with a boss, colleague, or client. In her article in Harvard Business Review, September-October 2022, “How to Navigate Conflict with a Coworker,” Amy Gallo states that relationships were the top source of tension in a survey of 2000 American workers. Would you agree conflict is stressful?

Christians are definitely not immune to tensions in relationships. We also become hurt and agitated and often react in ways we later regret. An effective, professional and God-honoring strategy is crucial when dealing with toxic situations (or people).

In her article, Amy provides the following helpful tips we can use at work.

1. Remember your perspective is just one among many. We have different viewpoints and values, and it is unrealistic to expect everyone to see things the same way we do all the time. When we are confident about something, we find it hard to understand why others do not see it the same way. She advises that instead of taking time to debate who is correct, the focus should be on what should happen going forward.

This reminds me of how God wants us to listen carefully to others.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)

2. Be aware of your biases. These include fundamental attribution error (assuming another’s behaviour is more about their personality than the situation but believing the opposite of yourself), confirmation bias (interpreting events as proving the truth of existing beliefs), and affinity bias (an unconscious tendency to align with people who are similar to us). Amy suggests asking someone you trust, and who will tell you the truth, if you see a situation unfairly.

This reminds me of the importance of having many advisors.

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisors. (Proverbs 11:14)

3. Do not make it “Me Against Them.” When disagreeing with someone, we sometimes think of “me vs. you,” or one person is difficult, the other is not, or one person is right, and the other is wrong. She encourages us to think there are three entities in the situation: you, your colleague, and the dynamic between you. That dynamic is about the decision needed to be made or a job to finish. She advises us to think of problematic coworkers as colleagues with whom we share a problem to be solved.

This reminds me of the importance of humility.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

4. Know your goal. We need to be clear about our goals to avoid drama and stay focused. Amy advises us to list goals and circle the most important ones. These include finishing a project, building healthier work relationships, or feeling less stressed with interactions. Write down what you want to accomplish, as people who vividly describe their goals are likelier to achieve them.

This reminds me of the importance of remembering who we truly work for.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23)

5. Avoid workplace venting and gossip – mostly. Amy states it is natural to turn to others when something is not right at work. However, she warns us to carefully choose who we speak to and what we share. We should look for constructive people who are comfortable challenging our perspective and can be discreet.

This reminds me that God has clearly told us not to gossip.

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. (2 Corinthians 12:20)

6. Experiment to find what works. There is no particular right way to deal with a conflict situation or person. Amy suggests thinking of two or three methods to test. She gives an example of wanting to improve communication with a difficult colleague and suggests that we ignore the person’s tone for two weeks and focus on understanding the message. We should not assume this approach will work but view it is an experiment. She encourages us to keep trying different things.

This reminds me of the importance of being patient when working through things.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

7. Be and stay curious: Amy encourages us to “adopt a curious mindset and maintain hope that your troubled relationship can be improved.” She states that curiosity wards off confirmation bias, prevents stereotyping, and helps us approach difficult situations creatively instead of aggressively and defensively. Curiosity may “snap us out of a mindset that keeps us from discovering an unexpected solution.”

This reminds me of the importance of trusting the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Amy states these strategies increase our odds of improving a situation. However, she cautions us that sometimes change is not possible, and we need to “cut our losses” and focus on protecting our careers and well-being. She ends the article encouragingly stating, “I have found that with good-faith efforts and hard work, even some of the trickiest interpersonal conflicts can be resolved.”

Taking This to God in Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, we are imperfect people and we are thankful You guide us through Your Word. Thank You also for practical suggestions we can learn from others which we can apply in the workplace. Helps us always to review all suggestions and advice through the lens of Your Word so we can honor You in what we do and say at work. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I pray that you enjoy these helpful tips on dealing with conflict at work.

Have a wonderful week!

Bonny, Christian Women at Work

8 views0 comments


bottom of page