By: Darlene G. Snyder
People working in a variety of jobs often face hard to deal with co-workers, customers or even employers. How Christians respond to these difficult people can shed bad light upon those who trying to share Christ within that workplace. The following is an example:
“My son is in jail and you people need to help me! Your rules don’t mean anything; just get my son out of jail!”
I could hear the woman screaming at our employees from where I sat. She continued screaming and berating until I reached the counter.
“Mam, please calm down, I’ll help you, but you must stop yelling.” I said in my calmest voice.
“My son is in jail and your people won’t help me!” She yelled at me as I watched the fire in her eyes flash in my direction. “You all just don’t care about helping anyone!”
Taking in a deep breath and exhaling slowly, determined to remain cool, I spoke to her firmly, but kindly, “Mam, I’m willing to help you in whatever way I can, but I won’t allow you to continue yelling and screaming at me or our staff. You have to calm down; I will try and sort through all of this to find out how I can help.”
She began crying and shaking uncontrollably and for a moment, I thought she might faint. I continued speaking calmly and quietly to her. I took her away from the very public counter and sat her in a chair in front of my desk. Eventually between sniffles, she began to explain her problem or more accurately, her son’s problem. After discovering the real issue (a minor misdemeanor offense) and working diligently to help her get her son out of jail, she posted his bond and was able to take him home.
A few months later, I saw this woman in our local mall. I actually did not recognize her. The splotchy red eyes and tears were nowhere to be seen. She approached me, explained who she was, and apologized for her behavior that day when she was in our office – thanking me for the way I handled the situation.
Fifteen years or more later, this same woman recognized me and approached me as I was leaving our local supermarket. I smiled when our eyes met, but again, I didn’t recognize her. “Don’t you work at the courthouse?” she asked.
“Yes mam,” I responded.
“I will never forget your kindness. You probably don’t remember me, but I will never forget how you helped me when I was so upset over my son,” she said with tears brimming.
I thanked her and told her I recalled that particular situation after her reminder. We chatted a few minutes before going our separate ways. It’s hard to believe someone remembers a simple act of kindness that happened fifteen years earlier.
There hardly is a day that goes by that I don’t have to deal with an ill-mannered, impolite person. Sometimes these people are customers, or family members and at times church folk.
I am ashamed to admit, I too have been known to be a difficult person. Most times, I can excuse my actions by telling myself, I was in the right and that person in front of me or on the telephone deserved my wrath. Deep down though, I know that logic is flawed.
How should we respond to a difficult person? It is hard to turn the other cheek, or look the other way when someone is offensive. Are there actions we can take to reverse the situation?
After working in public service for over thirty years, I have found there are ways to handle difficult people. Here are a few suggestions:
First, I suggest that Christians must stop displaying rude and impolite behavior toward people whom we encounter each day. We should be careful how we present ourselves to others.
- Treat people like you want to be treated. Speak calmly to others when encountering difficult situations. When you respond negatively to people in a stressful situation, it only serves to heighten the trauma and their response. When a person is upset, don’t respond in kind. Stay calm.
- Family members sometimes are the worst offenders. They will at times treat us worse than they would any other person. We too must be careful not to respond harshly. Do not harbor grudges or hard feelings. Portray a forgiving spirit.
- Sometimes the work environment is stressful. This in turn causes people to behave badly. This is true especially in a health care setting. Patients, employees and family members all are at risk of acting and responding improperly. Try to counter the rudeness by remaining calm. Choose your words carefully. Be sympathetic and understanding.
- Sometimes you may have to confront a person regarding their behavior. Often they don’t see themselves as acting badly. Some people will behave in ways they ordinarily would not, but because of a particular situation, or stress they act out of control.
- I have also found many people in the world are simply rude and really do not care how they behave or respond. There really isn’t much one can do with people like this. Remember we are only human and sometimes we will show our anger. Just be careful not to act like the person in front of you.
I learned something else recently about handling difficult people on the telephone. I moved my home office to a building adjutant to our property.. This move effected changes in my internet and telephone service. Trying to convey my needs to the phone company and getting them to make the necessary changes ruffled my feathers a tad bit. After speaking to numerous customer service employees, sometimes three and four times a week for almost a month, I became more aggressive in my requests and demands.
I found, no matter what I said or how badly I acted, the person on the other end handled me easily and calmly. “Yes Mam, and I’m sorry mam, for your trouble,’ were consistent responses. I know the call was being recorded which likely had something to do with their response. However, this response confirms what I already knew, remaining calm and keeping your response sympathetic helps defuse an irate person. I had to apologize to the person on the other end of my call. It took some time but they eventually helped me with my request.
There likely will be someone who will test our resolve and by human nature, we won’t always be able to tame our tongue and temper. Even so, we should remember, our response can help defuse most the out of control people we encounter.