Do I Have to Like the People I Work With?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Thomas Tolkien lemon square

A new person had joined the department. The director walked her around, introducing her to the various teams and people. And then she came back, visiting people in their offices and cubicles, asking one question.

“Where are the real power centers around here?”

“What?” I responded, unsure if I had heard correctly.

“Who are the power people in the department? I don’t have time to waste finding out on my own.”

She was serious.

I have generally liked the people I’ve worked with over a 40-year career. And I’ve worked with some odd, eccentric ones (the price you pay for having a degree in journalism). But never had I met someone like that, openly and brazenly political, not caring who knew, until that day.

More like her came along later. These are the kind of people I have the greatest difficulty liking. They generally do little work, but they are masters at giving the appearance of impression of doing work. They take credit for what others do. They manage upward, and they have a callous disregard for anyone they believe can’t help move up. They can and do deliberately lie; they avoid accepting any responsibility for what they do and what they say about others.

They’re known as takers, not givers.

Every organization I’ve worked in has had at least one person like this. My internal alarm system goes off as soon as I meet one. One time I worked for one – for almost two years. It was not a good experience. I don’t like them as people. I don’t trust them as work colleagues. I avoid them to the extent I can. But how do you avoid your boss?

You can’t avoid your boss. And you can’t avoid the people you have to work with. Instead, you find a way to deal with them. For me, it’s a three-step process.

First, you accept the expansive definition of “neighbor,” as in, “love your neighbor.” Just because the person may be a jerk by most human standards doesn’t let you off the hook. You have to find a way to love the jerk in the workplace, because they’re your neighbor, too.

It took me a long time to come to grips with that expanded definition of “neighbor.” A long time. I still struggle with it.

Second, and I’m not perfectly proficient at this, you have to speak plainly to workplace “politicians.” You have to confront, and you have to call something what it is. You don’t do this in a patronizing way, but in a straightforward way, even when it’s your boss. Saying nothing is essentially being a co-dependent, facilitating bad behavior in the workplace. But you do have to speak in love, with a humble heart and a clear head.

It’s not only the politicians. It’s also the loud and obnoxious people. And the gossips. And the people who play mind games for entertainment. The braggarts. The people most of us consider “irregular,” and not necessarily in a good way. (You see where this is going – there aren’t going to be many people left once you really identify them all.)

Third, you have to pray. And this can take time. Sometimes I think that these people are there specifically to teach me something – and how long they stay in their positions means it’s taking me a long time to learn something.

The “who are the power centers?” person was in my workplace for the next twenty years. Her behavior eventually caught up with her, but considerable damage was done to people and the work. Once it did, though, she was gone.

We are not called to like everyone we work with. But we are called to love them.

Post by Glynn Young. Image by Thomas Tolkien. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.