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4 Lessons from the Bible on Dealing with Critical Coworkers

by Chuck Bentley January 13, 2017

Originally posted on the Christian Post on January 13.


Dear Chuck,

I mostly like my job, or at least I don’t mind the work, and I’m grateful for it. But I find that some of my coworkers are really the worst part of my day. They can be critical, mocking, annoying, and I find that most of my stress comes from dealing with a few bad apples. Some people go out of their way to make it difficult to get anything done. They are like roadblocks to peace or effectiveness. I know that God wants us to work, but what does He say about how to handle a difficult group of people, not just a job?

Frustrated by Human Roadblocks

Dear Frustrated,

As you begin a new year, be determined to enjoy your work more and to be bothered less by those who are difficult. You can find some excellent advice and examples in the lives of Daniel and Joseph, who literally faced life and death scenarios at work – caused by extremely difficult people.

When King Nebuchadnezzar defeated Israel in a war, Daniel was a young man selected for lifetime service in the court of his country’s conqueror. The king told his court officials “to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.”

As a young man, Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. He first ended up in Egypt to serve Potiphar, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard. Then later he ran the prison that had once held him after being falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s wife, because she was angry he wouldn’t sleep with her.

While you have the option of getting another job if you really find the people too much to endure, first consider that both Daniel and Joseph faced service with people they could not escape. Let’s unpack some key lessons we can learn from both of these Biblical examples.

Both Daniel and Joseph:

  1.  Decided that they would keep God’s standards even in hostile settings. Daniel and his friends decided to forgo the most lavish and decadent food at the king’s table and instead to eat the kind of food that God advised in the Old Testament. Joseph refused to give in to the sexual advances of his boss’s wife. These decisions to put God’s law first cost both men in the short term, but proved their absolute integrity and character under trial. In each case, the men had to face resistance, but their course was set by knowing God’s law and determining to follow it.
  2. Contributed excellent work no matter the task they were given. When it came time for Daniel and his friends to be examined, the king “found none equal” to the young men dedicated to the Lord. When Joseph took over the care of Potiphar’s property, “the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” The stories of these young men make it clear that they worked with diligence and discipline, ensuring that there was no complaint with their results.
  3. Held firm when people tried to get them to relax their standards. Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph when he would not do what she wanted. He knew that she could ruin his reputation with her lie, but he held to the Lord’s commands, even when put in prison. But God continued to use him – Genesis 39:22-23 notes: “So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

Daniel consistently outperformed everyone around him, leading to some seriously jealous coworkers who wanted him to fail. But we read in Daniel 6:4, “They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” Both men, facing lies and intrigue, chose to put excellence and integrity first. They could have tried to play ball or office politics. They could have taken easier paths. But they held firm to being “a workman approved unto God.”

  1. Helped those around them, even those who had tried to turn them. In Daniel’s case, the leaders in Babylon conspired to have Daniel thrown to the lions den (a death sentence that God prevents), but they forget that in Daniel 2, he saved their lives when they could not interpret a dream for the king. The angry king said: “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.” But Daniel and his friends intervened and prayed to God for the answers the king sought, and saved everyone.

Many remember that in Joseph’s story, the boy sold into slavery rises to second in command of Egypt, making preparations for a famine that could have devastated the world. When faced with the opportunity to let his brothers who had sold him into slavery starve, he instead saved them all. After Joseph’s father died, his brothers offered to become his slaves because they were afraid that he would take his vengeance now that their father was gone. But Joseph cared for them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Difficult people are a reality of life and certainly a part of most work places. But as we confront challenging people with God’s perspective, we need to differentiate our feelings about how others behave and how we need to respond. Jesus says in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus does not say people will be easy to love or even that they will receive it well. But he tells us to offer it – and — that how we treat others is a sign of our relationship with Him. I highly  recommend that you read about Daniel and explore Joseph’s life. Both men dedicated themselves to putting God first, no matter their circumstances, and to treating others righteously. This did not make every circumstance easy, but it did result in many blessings and the favor of God in their trials.

The ability to get along with all types of people is an essential skill in today’s workplace. When you can avoid stressing out about difficult coworkers (or saying what you really think), you will have more personal peace and better opportunities to advance professionally. Both Joseph and Daniel ended up basically running whole countries … who knows where the right approach to difficult people may take you!

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