Cutting Your Coworkers Some Slack

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Recently I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Not dramatically bad. Just persistently bad.

First my two boys sluiced through the slushy snow and in two minutes flat managed to soak not only their sneakers but also the bottom quarter of their jeans. By the time they got into the car, Rowan, my youngest, was sobbing about his frozen feet and sopping socks, and Noah was bemoaning the fact that he’d have to spend the entire school day in wet sneakers.

Generous and compassionate mother that I am, I did not volunteer to run inside for a fresh change of socks and shoes, but instead tersely suggested they think before they act next time.

Then, after I had dropped Noah off at school, I had to loop back to the house not once but twice before heading to the grocery store—first to pick up my forgotten cell phone and then again for my neglected wallet.

Later, as I unloaded the groceries from the back of the minivan, one of the paper bags burst apart in my hands, sending a dozen Yoplait, bunch of bananas, roll of paper towels, and can of Folgers tumbling into the slushy slop on the driveway. As I shook the wet mess off the items and tossed them into the entryway of the house, I mumbled obscenities under my breath.

And then, after I’d finally finished unpacking the groceries, I realized that I had lost my credit card.

“Mommy’s having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” I complained to Rowan.

“Mommy needs a love day,” he answered and promptly headed upstairs.

Offer Compassion over Contempt

Thirty minutes later Rowan re-emerged from his room with a gift for me, a work of art: seashells fastidiously magic-markered in violet and stuck delicately onto a pencil entwined in coral wiki stick—a masterpiece in creativity and ingenuity, if I may say so.

I learned a lesson from Rowan that day, which is this: it pays to cut people some slack, to give others the benefit of the doubt. Instead of ignoring my complaints and rolling his eyes (as I had done to him that very morning), Rowan reached out with compassion and empathy. And I think it would be wise for us adults to do just the same.

After all, how often do you come across a cranky cashier? Or a rude driver? Or a snippy telemarketer? And how often do you react with compassion? I, for one, usually mutter something disdainful under my breath as I walk away: “What’s her problem? Come on lady, why don’t you choose another profession, like maybe prison guard—I don’t think customer service is the job for you.”

A Prayer Instead of a Curse

Perhaps before I mutter, I should stop to consider that the cranky person might be having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Or perhaps worse. Maybe her mother died last week. Maybe his wife was just diagnosed with cancer. You never know what burdens a person carries.

At the very least, we can cut the cranky cashier some slack. Offer a smile or a friendly hello—a compassionate rather than contemptuous response. At the very least, we can give the rude driver the benefit of the doubt—perhaps a prayer instead of a curse. After all, this is what Jesus does for us every day, time and time again. Jesus gives us the benefit of the doubt; he cuts us some major slack. That's the gift of grace.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."
Philo of Alexandria

Questions and Resources for Further Reflection

  • My son gave me the benefit of the doubt, even though I didn't deserve it. Has someone cut you some slack recently? How did that feel?
  • How can you prompt yourself to react with compassion rather than contempt? Is there a phrase or saying you can repeat as a reminder to act compassionately, even when faced with a grumpy, angry person?
  • Can you think of instances in the Bible in which Jesus gave someone the benefit of the doubt? Read one of those passages [examples: Mark 9:20-25; Luke 19:1-9; Luke 22:31-34] and reflect on it.
  • For more, read Mary DeMuth’s reflection “Assuming Positive Intent” and John Leax’s essay about combating cynicism in the workplace.