Difficult colleagues are one of the biggest reasons people change jobs in Australia. How can I handle a workplace bully? Hear a story of someone who experienced an extraordinarily difficult colleague and offers radical wisdom to respond.
Andrew Laird works for City Bible Forum in Melbourne and directs Life@Work - an initiative aimed at connecting Christian faith with our daily work. He’s also the author of a book, “Under Pressure: how the gospel helps us handle the pressures of daily work”
We’re also asking this question today to ‘Ben’. Ben works for an organisation in Melbourne and his name has been changed to protect privacy as today we’ll be talking about some fairly sensitive issues.
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Questions asked in the conversation
We’d test you on how much you know about the TV show, ‘The Office’ - a show which has a number of difficult colleagues.
Pressure of difficult colleagues
Now I’m not sure that you’ve ever had a colleague like Michael Scott from The Office? But one research study found 331 instances of different forms of workplace bullying in 54 episodes of The Office which adds up to around 6 bullying instances per episode.
Now, Andrew, it is perhaps concerning, that what were meant to be jokes on the TV show, is the everyday reality of many workers in Australia today? Many people have very difficult work colleagues?
You wrote in your book Under Pressure - that a key reason people leave their workplaces, is because they can’t stand their colleagues?
So how could we handle difficult colleagues?
Now, Ben, you had a particularly difficult colleague at one stage. Though this wasn’t being filmed for TV and it was no laughing matter. Can you tell us what happened?
How did you react? Did you consider moving away, attacking or getting even?
The Bible’s reflection - lean in with love
The big question we’re asking today is how to handle difficult colleagues and Andrew, you suggest that the Bible has something to say on this topic?
In the Gospel of Luke, one of the four biographies of Jesus’ life that we have, Jesus says to his disciples.
27 ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.
This is pretty radical teaching, Ben - how do you react to this? In fact your daughter taught you an important lesson about this didn’t she?
So Andrew how does this apply to difficult colleagues?
Ben - could this work? Perhaps nice thinking 2000 years ago, but a bit naive of modern workplaces.
So what would it look like to do good to those who hate you, or bless those who curse you. Did you try to do that to your colleague?
So how did you resolve your conflict with your colleague? This is pretty hard when they treat you so bad.
Famed atheist Christopher Hitchens was once asked about the concept of loving enemies and he rejected the suggestion by saying,“We have to hate our enemies and try to destroy them before they destroy us” This seems to be the natural human response doesn’t it?
Hitchens went on to say that loving enemies, ‘Disarms those of virtue and leaves them at the mercy of the wicked.’ so by saying, ‘love your enemies’, is Jesus proposing something most radical? It does make you vulnerable?
But if my difficult colleague is a bully, doesn’t this teaching let them off and perpetuate injustice? The Christian faith appears to be allowing you to be walked over and treated like a doormat?
The Big Question
So Andrew, “Ben”, how can I handle difficult colleagues?