Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Dealing with difficult people isn’t about you

Difficult people are everywhere. I’m sure you know a couple. Maybe more than a couple. You probably deal with them in the store, on the road, at school. You might even live with one, and you most likely work with one. Heck, you might even be one.

If you are one … Jesus loves you. Grow up.

For everybody else, keep reading.

Living, dealing, working with difficult people is just something we all have to figure out, because you can’t escape difficult people. If you quit your job because people there are difficult, guess what? Your next job will have difficult people too. If you move out of your house because your family is difficult, guess what? That’s right. You’ll live in an apartment complex or with roommates who are difficult.

So if difficult people are a constant in this universe, the only recourse we have is to learn how to deal with them.

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

There are lots of books and advice on how to manage difficult people, and I’m honestly not sure if there’s one sure answer. But one thing I can tell you that I’ve learned is that if you give a difficult person a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers think that being kind to people means that we need to give others everything they ask for. And that’s not kindness, especially if what you’re giving them is bad for them. Like a diabetic. Is it kind to give a diabetic a candy bar? No! I mean, they may want it, but giving it to them will ultimately hurt them. And that’s not kindness. That’s enabling.

Just because someone comes up and asks you for something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. And it’s not disrespectful or rude to ask some basic questions about what they want. Why do they want it? How soon do they need it? Who else will be affected by their request? Now, granted, you can ask those questions in a disrespectful or rude tone of voice, and that will change the meaning all the way around. But anyone who gets upset at you for asking basic informative questions like that has bigger issues than what you can fix.

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned in dealing with difficult people: It’s not about me.

If a difficult person gets upset at me because of something I’ve done or something I won’t do, it’s not about me. It’s about them. If I have a legitimate reason for refusing to do something and can kindly and gently back up my reasoning and they still get upset, the problem is on their end. Not mine.

Now that doesn’t give you the right to be mean. That doesn’t give you the right to call names or gossip or hurt people, even if they hurt you. You can gently tell someone no. You can kindly refuse to do something, especially if you have a reason for it. And if that person still gets upset with you, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you behaved in a way that would bring honor to God.

Difficult people thrive on drama, and if you refuse to be dragged into their drama, they don’t have anything to feed on. That’s true in any situation, whether you live or work with them. Don’t get upset at them. Don’t yell at them. Don’t call them names or be passive aggressive and try to get them in trouble. Just be honest with them. If they’re off target, tell them gently.

You be the person you’re supposed to be. You do what God says is right. And God will honor that.

And, besides, you never know what God will do in someone else’s heart. You never have a reason to be cruel or mean to someone else. So even though it’s tempting to call names and gossip, don’t.

Stay out of the drama. Speak the truth with love. Gently stand firm for what’s right.

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Living like everyone has a long memory

I don’t often post about work on this blog, mainly because I never want to run the risk of getting too personal in my stories. But my work plays a huge role in my life, and I learn so much from it and from the people I work with. And yesterday, I got a really interesting reminder about the blessing (or danger) of long memories.

Okay. Story time.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a copywriter for a plumbing company. Sometimes I travel to locations around the country where customers are installing our piping systems so I can conduct interviews and write articles. A number of years ago, I was visiting a job site in Cincinnati, and that evening I got to have dinner with the owners of the mechanical contracting shop in charge of the project. We talked industry. We talked politics. We talked plumbing. And then we talked personal interests, and my love of writing came up–along with the science fiction novel I was trying to get published (called Nameless, in case anyone wants to know). Turns out, both of these owners are huge geeks, and they jumped on the topic eagerly, wanting to know how a publishing company works, wanting to understand how writing a book works, wanting to know everything about the book I’d written. At the end of the dinner, they told me they wanted me to keep them updated about the novel so they could buy it when it hits the shelves (in January, published by Crosshair Press).

Well, that was years ago. And there was quite a bit of alcohol consumed around that table. And I honestly figured they hadn’t really meant it. So you can imagine my surprise when the local sales rep from Cincinnati approached me at this year’s National Sales Meeting yesterday and informed me that those two owners had been asking about my book.

I was flabbergasted. I honestly didn’t know what to say. But once I recovered myself, I got to share the exciting news that my book will be published at the beginning of next year, and if they really want to buy it, they will be able to.

Honestly. Two union plumbing contractors interested in my science fiction novel. Of all the things they remembered about me from that night (other than the fact that I only drank water), they remembered my book. And they remembered it well enough to ask about it years afterward.

That made my day.

But then I got to thinking how awful would it have been if they’d remembered something negative about me? So many times people say they don’t have good memories, but what that means is they don’t usually remember good things. When it comes to bad things, people remember in startling detail. And as Christ-followers, we need to be aware of that.

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 2:11-12.

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

What if I had been rude or distant? What if I had been ignorant or proud? What if I had been stuck up or snotty? I think these guys would have remembered that. Or they would have written me off completely, because that’s how they expect people to act.

What do the people around you think of you? Have you ever thought about it? Granted, you shouldn’t choose your actions based on what other people think of you, but never forget that as followers of Christ, we are here to be examples to those who don’t believe. We are ambassadors for Christ, and we are commanded to live lives that are above reproach. That means even if someone accuses of you doing something wrong, the way you live your life will be enough of a witness to show them a liar.

Do you think living that kind of life is impossible? Nothing is impossible with God. Why do you think He left us the Bible? The Bible has everything that we need to live a Christ-honoring life, and–what’s more–if you live according to what the Bible says, you’ll leave an impression on people. And it’ll be a good impression. An impression they’ll remember for years to come.

No, don’t live your life to please people, but never forget that people are always watching. Maybe it’s not fair, but they’re always waiting for that opportunity to write your faith off as something that’s not real. Don’t give them that opportunity.

Love God. Love people. Be real. And watch God work. Who knows what He’ll use in your life to influence people? Don’t discount anything. We serve a God who can feed 10,000 people with a sack lunch, so why am I shocked that He could intrigue two plumbers with a science fiction novel?