The book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is the best book I’ve read on improving employee relations, managing people, and helping with career pursuits. We will examine some specific proverbs to see how they apply to our lives as Christians in the marketplace.
First, however, let me encourage you to make Proverbs a daily reading habit. There are 31 chapters, so it’s easy to read the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month. I’ve been doing that for several years, and find the practical advice has been most beneficial in my life, particularly in my business relationships and decisions.
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provision in summer and gathers its food at harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
In the margin of my Bible beside this verse I have written “self-motivated.” The ant is a self-motivated creature. Without anyone standing over all those ants and telling them what to do, they perform their jobs diligently and are prepared for what lies ahead.
Self-motivation is a key factor in our business world today, yet very few people have it. Most people simply try to get by while doing as little as possible. They don’t look beyond their noses to see what else could be done; they take no initiative and are not willing to go any extra miles.
A Christian in the workplace should be like the ant—self-motivated, willing to dig in and get the work done without prompting or constant supervision. Do our managers trust us? Can she or he be assured that we will diligently do our job whether or not anyone is watching? Certainly a Christian should produce that kind of reputation.
Our witness in the world can never be effective if our lives aren’t different. If we have the it’s-not-my-job attitude that is prevalent today, drag our feet and do only what we’re told to do, and gripe and complain about doing anything above and beyond our job description, how will our coworkers and management know that Christ makes a difference in our lives? They won’t. Our verbal witness, if there is one, will fall on deaf ears.
Christians have a power far beyond ourselves to help motivate us. We have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us to give us the strength we need to be self-motivated. We should have the outstanding testimony on our jobs that we do our work, we do it whether or not anyone’s watching, we do it to the best of our ability, and we’re willing to go the extra mile.
Go to the ant and consider its ways. We can learn wisdom and self-motivation from those tiny ants.
Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. (Proverbs 9:9)
One of the most important characteristics of a Christian, in my opinion, is teachableness. A person who is teachable is a very wise and truly humble person, one who recognizes that they don’t know it all and there’s always something new to learn.
As a manager, I can tell you that it is a joy to have an employee who has a teachable spirit, who is willing to learn and looking for ways to improve. A manager will endure mistakes and learning cycles, and will hang in there much longer with you if he or she sees an attitude of teachableness—of wanting to learn. Nothing is more frustrating that trying to work with a person who thinks he or she knows it all and has no desire to learn anything new.
How about you? Are you teachable? How do you respond when you’re given helpful hints or suggestions? Do you resent it? Sometimes you can learn from younger people, people who have been in the business shorter than you, people below you in rank. But if you’ve got your back up or you feel threatened when someone tries to teach you something, you’re going to stagnate right where you are.
It is very smart and very mature to accept teaching, to listen to new ideas and suggestions. Managers need this quality as much as—or perhaps more than—anyone else. Many times we managers fail to listen to our employees who have very good ideas that could help us if we were more teachable.
The day we get beyond being teachable, we’re in trouble, because that’s the day we’ll stop growing. And we don’t just stand still, we go backwards.
How about it? Do you need to ask God to make you a teachable person? No matter how good and smart you already are, you can be wiser still, Proverbs says. You can add to your learning and wisdom by allowing others to instruct you.
Drive out the mocker and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended. (Proverbs 22:10)
Have you ever worked with a person who was a mocker and a scoffer? We don’t use those words much today, but I’m sure we can recognize that kind of behavior. That’s the person who makes fun of others, ridicules people and organizations, and is arrogant and causes problems seemingly on purpose. Proverbs 15:12 says that a mocker resents correction and will not consult the wise. They’re unteachable! When there’s a mocker in the group, the work environment can be pretty miserable.
This proverb says that by getting rid of a mocker, we get rid of strife. For those of us who are in management positions, it’s good to remember that there are times when the right thing to do is to let an employee go. I hope that doesn’t sound cruel, but a person who is intent on offending others—and some people are—can totally undermine an organization.
Of course, as Christians, we still must care about people regardless of how unlovable they are. Though we can never change people, the Holy Spirit can, so we shouldn’t give up praying for them. But that doesn’t mean we allow them to ruin the working environment for everyone else.
Solomon said, in his wisdom, that we’re better off driving out the mocker and the scoffer, for by so doing, the strife and dishonor will stop, people will be able to work productively together, and everyone will benefit, including the person who is the trouble maker. Allowing them to continue to get by with that inappropriate behavior doesn’t help them.
My experience in business tells me that many managers need to bite some bullets for the good of the organization by driving out the mockers and the scoffers who are disrupting the workplace. That is some good advice found in Proverbs.
Have you ever noticed how someone’s choice of words can have a very strong effect on you?
Have you become irritated when someone said, “Do this for me, and have it ready by 2:00,” or something like that? He or she just dumped the work on your desk while barking a few orders at you, and walked off, and you felt yourself getting angry at having to do that work.
In retrospect, you realize that it wasn’t what this person asked you to do, but the way he asked you to do it that really irritated you. Had he said, “I know you’re busy, but could you please help me? And if possible, I need it by 2:00,” you would have reacted differently.
Our choice of words largely determines how others respond to us. Wise Solomon knew that, too. There are many proverbs that talk about the power of the tongue. Proverbs 16:21 says that pleasant words make a person persuasive; verse 24 says that pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Here’s a way to help you choose your words more appropriately. Keep in the back of your mind this thought: How would I feel if someone said that to me? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to hear what you’re going to say. I guarantee you, if you do this, your choice of words will improve.
Instead of saying, “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” you’ll likely say, “If you don’t mind, could you wait until tomorrow?” After all, nobody likes to be dictated to. Instead of dumping bad news on people, you’ll soften the blow: “I’m so sorry to have to tell you that it is just not possible for me to get this for you today. If there was any way I could, I would.” I’m always amazed to see how people just dump bad news on you in the business world, without any empathy. Think how you feel when you get bad news.
Remember, keep asking yourself, How would I feel if someone said that to me? You’ll discover your words will have a different effect on people when you do that.
The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. (Proverbs 18:17)
This Proverb teaches us to withhold judgment and opinion until we’ve heard both sides to any story. We shouldn’t be gullible and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
This is a particularly difficult area for me, for I am very impulsive and very much an over-reactor. And every time I do that, I regret it. I am, by God’s grace, focusing prayer and attention on learning to wait to form an opinion until I hear both sides of any story, to make sure I’ve got my facts straight, and to remember that there may be something to the story I don’t yet know.
I remember coming into the office on a very busy day to find a message that irritated me at once. With only partial information, I thought this other person was doing something way out of line, and I overreacted. I went to the phone and started dialing the number in order to get things straightened out. Thankfully, she was not in and I didn’t get to speak with her at that time.
When she returned my call and explained the situation, I realized that the message had not been complete. Had I talked with her earlier, I would have overreacted and probably hurt her feelings. God protected me that time, and reminded me how much I need to learn not to overreact.
Wise Solomon warned us that the first person to present their case can sound very convincing, because we haven’t heard the other side of the story. We need to listen to people, but not be too quick to agree or disagree with them until we’ve sorted the facts out and know what we’re dealing with. This is good advice for managers and employees alike.
The book of Proverbs is never out of date because it is the inspired Word of God. God knows the human heart better than anyone else, and people are still people even though we are thousands of years removed from when this book was written. The Bible has lots of good, common-sense advice for us and is very relevant to the kind of situations we deal with today on our jobs. Develop a plan today for daily Bible reading so you may gain the great wisdom God has for you to apply to your business and management challenges.more