They will find you.
It doesn’t matter where you work. It doesn’t matter how amazing the company is, how much you enjoy your job there, or how well the staff team gels during a crisis. You will eventually have to work with that one guy—or woman—who makes you want to jump into a propeller. It’s almost like you’re an idiot magnet.
It could be their personal habits, or maybe the sound of their voice. It could be how they treat others or the way their humour always delivers a little jab. Maybe it’s all the above, plus bad breath, a competitive spirit, and sweat stains crawling out of their armpits. You’re not totally sure why they annoy you, but they do—and you’re getting a little stirred up just thinking about them. Am I right?
When I was a Youth Pastor I led a handful of mission trips to Mexico. One year a guy named Dave (not his real name) signed up for the adventure. It might have been the heat, but I kid you not, by the time we were two days into Orientation the little pirate had already worn me down to a quivering mass of neural spaghetti. By day four, I wanted to lure him behind a shed while no one was looking, and… pray for him, of course.
We all know people like that—irritating folks we’re stuck with for whatever reason. So the question is, how should we deal with annoying co-workers?
If you’re an Avoider, you probably try to keep your head down and focus on your work. When you hear them having conversations with others you pretend not to care, but you sit there judging every word, rolling your eyes and muttering to yourself. You rarely say anything, but you internalize your angst, practice telling them off in your head, and complain about them when you get home: “Honey, you’ll never believe what he did today.”
If you’re a Fighter, you probably feel like it’s your God-ordained calling to make sure they don’t get away with their usual garbage. You spar with them during coffee break, gossip about them when they’re not around, seek out people who feel the same way you do, and might even do little things throughout the week to sabotage their success. The Avoider drinks their poison in secret; the fighter passes it around like a communion cup.
Whether you’re an Avoider, a Fighter, or a special mix of the two, typical advice for dealing with an annoying person sounds the same: Try focusing on the good you see in them. Find one thing per day you can affirm them for. Ask about their personal life and try to get a sense for what it would be like to walk in their shoes. Pray for them every morning before work. Even better, try praying, “Lord, please help me see Dave the way you see him.”
Try focusing on the good you see in them. Find one thing per day you can affirm them for.
If you’ve tried any of these approaches, you can probably tell a story or three about how doing simple things transformed your relationship and work environment. They’re not bad ideas per se. The problem is, these solutions don’t focus on the real issue. They’re focused on easing the tension to make things more comfortable for you. Even if you manage to ‘fix’ that one relationship, you haven’t fixed yourself. Mark my words, another idiot will find you, your boss will pair you up, and you’ll find yourself pulling your hair out again.
Remember ‘Dave’ on my Mission Trip? One morning I gave Jesus an earful of my frustration, informing him that I needed annoying Dave to chill out. Unfortunately, God helped me see Dave wasn’t the problem. In a stunning revelation, I realized Dave was just being Dave and it was my heart that needed changing. I repented with tears and apologized to Dave for my lousy attitude. You know what? My heart filled up with genuine love for him, and he returned the favour. To this day, I have a soft spot in my heart with his name on it.
“Well, I’m glad that worked out for you,” you might protest, “but my life isn’t a youth mission trip. My ‘guy’ continually belittles me and I feel like I can never do anything right. You have no idea.”
That may be true, but why does his behaviour drive you crazy instead of stirring up compassion, love, or even just pity? I get it, I do: The jerks in your life are squishing your spiritual fruit. The thing is, it’s not Jesus juice coming out. It’s rancid brown stuff with chunks of who knows what floating in it that no one should be drinking. The hardball truth is that before God helps you “deal with” them, he wants to deal with you.
I’m old enough that I used to own one of those stereo systems you adjusted with actual dials instead of touch screens. I like to think of my life as one of those retro dials, with two possible settings: Give and Get. In any given moment our hearts are either set to Give something or to Get something. If our heart is set on Give, we’re postured to let heaven flow into us and through us. If our heart is set on Get, we’ve reversed the flow; we’re looking to someone or something other than God to fill us.
A truly self-aware King David confessed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). He knew the truth: We’re ‘set on Get’ right out of the box. Most of us know being totally selfish is a bad thing, so we try to set the dial somewhere between Give and Get, maybe a little more towards the Give side.
In other words, we like to Give… if we get a little something in return. I Give you a pat on the back, for example, because I expect you’ll return the favour. When you don’t, it irks me.
The reason our annoying co-worker bugs us so much is that we’re looking to Get something from them.
It may be hard to admit, but the reason our annoying co-worker bugs us so much is that we’re looking to Get something from them. It could be anything—respect, a smile, teamwork, or something as silly as laughing at our jokes. When they don’t like us it feels like they’re withholding something from us. They make us acutely aware of our restless quest for validation, approval, acceptance, success, significance, satisfaction, and security. When we’re ‘set on Get,’ we’re living as though it’s other people’s jobs to meet those needs.
The thing is, they can’t. But Jesus can, because he already has.
Christ lived a perfectly righteous life so we could “become the righteousness of God,” eternally validated and approved by him (2 Corinthians 5:21). We’re totally loved, forgiven, and one with the Father because Jesus died in our place (Romans 5:8). When Christ rose from the grave he shared his resurrection power, empowering us to live as overcomers who “count (ourselves) dead to sin but alive to God” (Romans 6:11). Even more, his Spirit gives us significance and ultimate satisfaction by filling us and turning us loose as his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Beyond this life, our “Jesus inheritance” gives us the ultimate security in heaven (Col. 1:12).
Your heavenly Father doesn’t just want to help you “deal with” your annoying coworker. He wants to help you come fully alive in Jesus. When you find your needs met in Christ, his peace in your heart will release people from being responsible to satisfy you. As you live in Christ’s love, no one will be able to invalidate, reject, or undermine you. When you realize your needs are not only met but overflowing, you’ll be free to set your internal dial from Get to Give so you’re ready to share the boundless love you’ve been given.
Especially with that annoying co-worker.