Between a Rock and a Hard Place
by Jeff Montgomery
The nature of the business I work in seems to lend itself to conflict. Being someone who likes everyone to get along and play well together, this tendency of the business is often at odds with my personality.
The company I work for provides software and services, primarily to banks, that handle the transactions that flow through the banking system. In designing software and during the process of installing it and getting it running, there is often a disconnect between what people heard in the sales process and what is actually getting installed. Or, a similar conflict sometimes comes up when people hear what they want to hear, rather than what was actually said. As a project manager, this provides ample opportunities to be an amateur diplomat, or at least the chance to hone my tap-dancing skills.
The challenge in these situations is figuring out how to handle them and how to be true to our Christian principles. Depending on the personalities involved, this sort of miscommunication can generate some heated discussions, or even accusations of misrepresentation. If you are the point person for the corporation, how do you maintain your cool and keep from jumping in with both feet?
As Christians, we are taught to foster peace and love. In the face of true hypocrisy or out-and-out attacks on our faith, righteous anger is sometimes acceptable. But that is rarely the case in the workplace. No one wins when we start losing our tempers and getting short with each other.
As always, we can look to Jesus to guide us.
If you think about it, Jesus built the ultimate team out of twelve very different personalities. Many of the Apostles came from different cultural backgrounds, which often produces conflict. Several of the Apostles were simple fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector, which the other eleven had to view with contempt, at least at first, since the Jews viewed all tax collectors with contempt. Simon Peter was, by most accounts, a headstrong man who expressed his opinion often and loudly.
From this disparate group, Jesus formed a team of men who ventured out and brought the good news to the world. They formed a bond of brotherhood that could never be broken. Through the teaching of Jesus, as well as the constant living together in primitive conditions, the Apostles learned to love each other and overcome their differences.
We can apply this same lesson to the difficult situations in our workplace. While we don't have to build such a strong bond of brother or sister-hood with our coworkers, we can apply the concept of learning to understand our differences and appreciate the needs of all in order to get the conflict resolved.
First, we have to recognize the essential human dignity of those involved in the situation. Whether they are Christian or not, each person was created by God and is endowed with the mark of our Creator. If we start form the point of mutual respect we diffuse many difficulties and potential conflicts.
In the movie 'Jesus of Nazareth' the relationship between Matthew and Peter is portrayed, at the start, as one of constant dislike and conflict. But Jesus brought them together by teaching them and helping them to recognize that they are both sons of God. Gradually they both learn to love each other. Once they built that mutual respect they were able to go on and do great things.
Secondly, we need to search for the truth. When I find myself in what looks like some hazardous situation at work, I often say a quick prayer that God will give me the strength to deal with it and to help me find the truth in the situation. Perhaps things have been misrepresented, or simply misunderstood, but somewhere in there is the truth.
In work situations the truth usually means that the provider of the product or service offers certain features or functions, and the client has specific needs or expectations. Sometimes they agree, and sometimes they don't. The amateur diplomacy comes in through trying to bring the two parties together.
This is also where our search for peace and understanding is critical to resolving the situation. Once we understand the truth, we can begin to build the bridges that will bring everyone together. That means that expectations or products might need to be changed, but once the truth has been laid out for everyone to see there is a base to build from.
Jesus brought the Apostles truth - the truth of His holy Sonship, and the truth of His mission on Earth. Once that truth was established, and the Apostles began to understand what they were witnessing, they came together and were able to carry the word of God to far-flung provinces.
Likewise, we can build strength in our organizations by resolving conflicts by using our Christian principles. It may not have the world-changing impact of the Apostles, but at least we can bring some peace to our workplace. We also fulfill our mission as Christians to search for truth, to love one another in Christian love, and bring peace into the world.
In some small way we participate in the mission of Jesus when we search for truth, love, and peace. By bearing the weight of a conflict, and using the strength that Jesus gives us, we bring God into our workplace (even if the others don't recognize Him), and thereby make the world a little better.
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