1. Pray for your enemies.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28, NIV).
When one feels wronged, a natural inclination is to wish ill on those causing the pain or discomfort. However, Jesus taught his followers to love. This isn’t easy, but it takes the focus off self and causes one to consider that life circumstances may be impacting the negative, arrogant, or jealous person that causes the behavior. The Holy Spirit can help us see the one contributing to a caustic work situation as a child of God in need of prayer and love.
I once worked for an administrator who rated those she liked favorably and those she did not like, negatively, regardless of their work profiles. This created animosity, jealousy, and stress among staff. Everyone was afraid to approach her for fear of landing on her ‘dislike’ list. Several staff resigned; however, a small group of Christians chose to remain and regularly prayed for this supervisor. She didn’t change her behavior but our praying made us more tolerant as we kept focused on Christ.
2. Exemplify Christian love.
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:46-52, NIV).
Jesus extended compassion by healing a blind man whose name meant son of unclean. The man likely was taunted as a dirty beggar. Jesus could have easily walked away from this distasteful situation and ignored the man's cries for help; instead he compassionately cared.
In a negative work situation, Christians are called to model Christ-like character. When people are gossiping or complaining, it’s not easy to avoid commenting. It’s also difficult to keep silent when a bully hurls insults. However, by aligning with the mind of Christ and his example, our resolve can strengthen.
I once worked for a supervisor who took over this position that I’d been filling on an interim basis. Because of this dynamic, our relationship was tense. Any idea I offered at staff meetings was consistently rejected. Eventually, she called me to her office and admonished for bringing up ideas in what she considered an inappropriate manner. Rather than argue, I remained calm and thanked her for her perception. She anticipated an argument; when one did not emerge, there was nothing to do except let it go.
We can overcome negative with good. Paying a compliment, speaking a word of encouragement, giving a smile or a favor to one who is causing distress in the work environment could change the climate. God encourages us: “To the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21, NIV).
3. Entrust justice to God.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:18-19, ESV).
Our natural inclination is to defend against perceived injustice. However, God asks us to entrust justice to him. Although we may want to handle things our own way, only God can judge with righteousness. Jesus stated, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39, NIV). In Ephesians 6:12-13, we’re reminded that spiritual forces are at work against us. Paul states that we have the full armor of God available so we can stand our ground.
When faculty co-workers complained about a former department chairperson for placing most of her responsibilities on subordinates, some faculty members wrote an anonymous letter to her superior, hoping to have her dismissed. A comprehensive list of complaints, with exemplars, was included. The hoped-for dismissal never emerged. If anything, new futility fueled the discontent. Retaliation is not a successful strategy, and we should never feel it’s our place to get even. Instead, we need to trust God to make things right. We may be comforted by Psalm 138:7, NIV: “The righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.”
4. Draw strength from adversity.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4, NIV).
Be glad for trials? Yes. They test our faith and produce perseverance, maturing us in Christ. Instead of discouragement, resentment, and bitterness, with the Holy Spirit’s help we can change our perspective. What might God be teaching us through this situation? Pray for direction to sense how difficult work situations can produce spiritual growth.
We’ve all worked with people who don’t like us. I recall a colleague who had worked many years at the workplace I had recently joined. I had many years of nursing experience and multiple degrees—maybe she felt threatened by me. She disturbed the entire faculty group with her gossip about me, making them uncomfortable. I was inclined to resign. Then God helped me see that my goal is not to acquire the accolades of men, but to care about God's perception of me. As a people-pleaser, I couldn’t stand for others to dislike me. Through prayer, God showed me there will always be people who don’t like me, and it’s futile to try to please everyone. If God is pleased with my behavior, that’s sufficient.
5. Become a change agent.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, ESV).
If you’re being mistreated at work or observe a problematic situation, seek biblical wisdom. If the situation is within your control, you might help with a creative solution. With assessment for a root cause, you might determine the cause of the toxicity and discern if you’re the one to implement change. Perhaps the unit is understaffed. You might join a committee to work on staffing problems. Maybe someone feels threatened or insecure, so he or she acts out. Your positive encouragement may make a difference. Perhaps the staff suffers because everyone is so busy there’s no time for bonding or getting to know one another. How about a creative contest or fundraising activity that brings a common focus to the unit.
6. Examine your own behavior.
“When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him” (Genesis 37:4, NIV).
When I first read about Joseph in Genesis, all I saw was his brothers’ cruelty sparked by their father's favoritism. More recently, I wondered: Did he flaunt his father's preference toward him by flaunting his special multicolored coat? When telling his brothers of his dream that they would bow down to him, did he have a superior attitude? Sometimes we contribute to negative environments without it being our intention.
When we moved to a new state, after sharing what I thought was a great idea in my new workplace, I was told that everything I shared was prefaced with, “Where I used to work, we did....” I had attributed my perception of a somewhat cold reception from this group as related to regional cultural distinctions. Although that may have been a factor, I saw that my new colleagues probably perceived me as acting superior. Removing that phrasing and listening first eventually resulted in warmer and lasting friendships.
Linda Johansen, EdD, RN, is an associate professor in the nursing department at Walden University. She’s also a regular volunteer for medical mission work.
Read the full article, “Six Principles for Remaining Positive in a Negative Work Environment,” in Journal of Christian Nursing.
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