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Proverbs for Business and Management

Apr 22, 2017

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.


Evaluating Your Work Attitudes

May 30, 2015

Attitudes are contagious, they say.  But the question is:  Would anyone want to catch yours?

I find that my attitude can take a dive so fast, if I don’t check up on it frequently, I’ll be in that negative frame of mind before I know it.  And let’s face it—the workplace can be one of the most difficult places to keep our attitudes positive and upbeat.

We can start our workday in a good mood and by the end of the day, we’re griping and complaining about something, looking on the dark side, imagining the worst.  Our attitudes can go downhill fast.

Maintaining a good attitude where we work—toward our work and toward the people we work with—is one of the areas where we can have a strong witness on our jobs, if we can keep our attitudes where they should be.

Let’s take a look at some key areas where our attitudes can easily start to go down hill, and then see what the Bible has to say.  I imagine you’ll be able to relate to some of these.

Griping and Complaining

Have you ever been around someone who loved disasters and crises?  I’ve run into that person on a job or two of mine.  They gripe about everything and everybody, and seem to really enjoy spreading any bad news they can dig up.  Even when there’s something good happening, they’ll find the fly in the ointment and do their best to spoil the good times for everyone else.  You know, that person can get on your nerves after a while!

It’s become normal and acceptable for employees to complain and gripe about the company and the management.  How often do you hear coworkers complaining about the way the company is run, the pay scale, the work environment, the benefits—you name it.  And here’s the thing: When others start complaining and griping around us, we almost feel like we have to agree with them or join in because otherwise we’re kind of weird.

And of course, we as Christ-followers are just as susceptible to this griping and complaining disease as anyone else.  But the difference is—or should be—that we determine by God’s grace not to be a part of that scene.

There’s a verse in the Bible that addresses this:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).

“Everything” leaves no room for fudging, because it includes your unfair wages, the difficult boss, the annoying co-worker, the way the company treats you—and even the weather!  Complaining is such a waste of energy and it’s stressful on you as well as everyone around you!

A friend of mine works for an organization that truly fights this griping culture from the top down.  And one of their work mottos is—simply—“No whining.”  It’s an attitude that is encouraged because it makes such a difference in the work product as well as the environment.  Attitudes really are contagious, and you can be a part of passing on to others a good attitude, a positive one.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t recognize and, when necessary, confront issues that need to change.  But griping and complaining never changed anything except to make things worse.

As you go to your job, ask God to keep you from complaining.  Stop in mid-sentence if you have to and refuse to get caught up in this complaining tendency.  Doing our jobs without complaining is one of the strongest testimonies we can have for Jesus Christ.

Don’t Like the Job

Did you know studies show that almost half of the people in the workplace report that they really don’t like their jobs?  Wow, that’s rather discouraging.  I can just visualize those thousands and thousands of people headed out to their jobs each day dreading it.  Reminds me of that old commercial about the man whose job was to bake donuts everyday.  You remember the one: “Time to make the donuts.”  You could just see it in his face and hear it in his voice; he hated to make those donuts.

Can people see in your face and hear in your voice that you hate your job? I well remember having a new job which looked so interesting when I accepted it but was so boring once I began working there. I did not like the job content, and as a result, I didn’t work very hard, I couldn’t wait for the days to end, and I wanted to blame others—like my manager—for the fact that I didn’t like my job.

You know, if you don’t like your job and that is affecting the way you work, you need to do some soul searching and pray about that attitude.  There may be good reasons you don’t like your job, but there’s no good reason to harbor a bad attitude about it.  There’s nothing wrong with looking for a different job where you’ll enjoy the content more, but as long as you’re there, you owe your employer an honest day’s work for your paycheck.  Then, have you ever thought about what you might be able to do to make your current job more interesting?  If you see a better way to do things, or you have an idea of something that could be done to improve the organization, then why not at least try to see if your ideas might be accepted?

Sometimes when we find ourselves in a job we really don’t like, we can justify in our minds that we have a right to goof off.  Have you ever found yourself thinking something like:  This job is so boring and so beneath me that I’m just going to get by until something better comes along.

The truth is, as Christians, we don’t have such a right.  We are obligated by our commitment to the principles of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to work with all our might at whatever we’re doing, because ultimately we’re working for the Lord, not for people.

If you’ve been hating your job lately, remember that God can help you with an attitude adjustment.  You may not be able to change the things you don’t like about your job, but you can, by God’s grace, change your attitude.  Your attitude is your choice.

Trying to Control the Uncontrollable

Have you ever noticed how upset we get over the uncontrollable things that happen in our days?  It’s one of our major energy leaks, and it can really ruin your attitude.  Start to notice how often you get upset or irritated over things which are totally out of your control.  I think you may be surprised to discover how often it happens.

For instance, you can find yourself yelling at machines:  What do you mean, “Call key operator.”  Come on, I need these copies right now!  Or at the weather:  It’s raining again!?  I am so sick of this lousy weather.  Is the sun ever going to shine again?  Or maybe this one:  My flight is cancelled?  Why?  What’s the matter with this airline?  I’ve got to get to Indianapolis tonight!

Trying to control the uncontrollable–it is a futile effort and all it does is put us in a bad mood.  Then, while we’re fretting over things which we cannot control, we are losing control of the things we can control.

For example, we can control our words and avoid saying things that upset or discourage others.  But when we’re trying to control the uncontrollable, we often lose control of the words we say and end up saying things that are hurtful or discouraging.

We can control how we think and bring every thought into captivity, but when we’re trying to control the uncontrollable, we lose control of our thoughts and start thinking all kinds of negative and unkind and untrue things.

Here’s a good motto for you and me to remember:

If you will control the controllable, you can cope with the uncontrollable.

Focus on staying in control of the things that are your responsibility; when you do, you’ll have the strength to cope with those uncontrollable events in your day.  How do you do that?  The Apostle Paul gave us some very good advice:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

If we really practice this principle on our jobs, we’ll have very good work attitudes, and in the process we’ll reduce our stress, improve our productivity and enhance our witness for the Lord.  God’s Word is relevant to the uncontrollable things that will happen to you today.  Don’t forget it.

Difficult Co-Workers

I’ve finally concluded that if I didn’t have to deal with other people, life would be easy!  Do you ever feel that way?  It just amazes me how many people don’t think like I think, don’t see things the way I see them, don’t hold the same obviously correct opinion that I hold!  Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” expressed this frustration in the song: Why can’t a woman be more like a man?  But I think the words need slightly re-arranging:  Why can’t people be more like me?

Often these people conflicts can ruin our attitudes and drag us down rather quickly.  And you know what I’ve discovered?  I am very prone to focus on a person’s negatives and forget about their positives.

A friend of mine was having a hard time accepting the fact that a coworker was always late in getting his job done.  She found herself often waiting for him to do his job so she could do hers, and it seemed that no amount of reminders or cajoling caused him to respond more quickly.  But finally she realized that this was annoying, but in the end he always came through and his work product was always done well.  So, she simply began to count on the fact that he would not be on time, and she found ways to deal with it—getting other things done while waiting on him.

Now that doesn’t excuse his tardiness, but it reduced her stress greatly and made it so much easier for her to work with him.  I call that putting a person in a different frame.  Instead of thinking of him as “always late,” she began to think of him as “work well done.”

Put someone in another frame—have you ever tried that technique?  This is a wonderful way to keep your attitude in good shape, and it’s right out of God’s Word:

“If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your   minds on whatever is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8 J. B. Phillips).

Often when we must deal with unpleasant or irritating people, we focus so much on their negative qualities that we totally lose sight of their good ones.  The King James Version says to think about the good reports, and I love that phrase, because so often I’m prone to think about the bad reports.  That person who is causing you trouble right now—well, there is some good report about that person if you’ll just look for it.  Make yourself think about the good report, the new frame you’ve put them in.  You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to get along with them.

Once you get used to this practice of re-framing people who are difficult, you’ll discover the great side benefits:  Reduced stress, less anxiety, better sleep, happier days.  You will benefit more than anyone else when you learn to re-frame and think about the good reports, not just the bad ones.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…” (Ephesians 5:19-20). If you are having some difficulty with your work attitude now, are you willing to put this passage to the test?  First, start singing in your heart to the Lord—I mean literally, start singing. Then thank God for whatever it is that you don’t like in your life right now.  Tell God that you trust him to make lemonade out of these lemons, and by a set of your will, choose to be thankful.  It’s a sure way to readjust your attitude.


Constructive Confrontation – Part II

Nov 22, 2014

-Part II-

When we avoid needed confrontations, we almost always make matters worse. In that avoidance mode, think of what can happen.

  • We start gossiping and griping and complaining about the person we should be confronting, and that can lead to all kinds of problems.
  • We keep our angry feelings bottled up inside of us, and they eventually turn into bitterness, which makes us unlovely people and causes great stress.
  • We allow that other person to continue to get by with whatever it is, enabling them to do what they are doing.
  • We perpetuate a negative environment by our lack of action, instead of taking a positive approach to try to find a solution.

Of course, how, when and where you confront is of prime importance. And the motivation behind the confrontation has to be carefully analyzed, to make certain we are acting from pure motives, in order to help others, not just to ventilate our frustration or anger. These issues are extremely important to successful and constructive confrontation.

Now, I would like to consider some examples of situations where a confrontation would be helpful, and then give some concrete ideas on how to approach that confrontation.

Confronting Careless Mistakes

Let’s say you need to confront someone on your job about mistakes she is making. These are careless mistakes, from lack of attention to details, but they are affecting your ability to do your job and the quality of the work effort of your company or organization. Although you are not this person’s manager, but rather a co-worker, this qualifies as a situation that needs careful thought. In most cases, it is best to try to confront this individual directly before taking it to a higher level.

So, you decide to gird up your courage and talk with this co-worker. You choose a day when the workload is manageable, and you invite this co-worker to have lunch with you. In a secluded setting, where your conversation can be kept private, you would need to open this topic in such a way that it doesn’t sound like finger pointing, yet you have to get to the point and be specific in order to accomplish anything positive.

Think which of these two approaches would work best:

  1. As you know, I’ve been working here for almost 12 years, and since you’re somewhat new on the job, I thought it would be good to give you a few pointers because you are making some mistakes that are causing a lot of problems. Let me point out to you what you are doing wrong. . .
  1. I remember when I first started working here, everything was so new and confusing. I’m sure I made tons of mistakes, but there was a woman who really helped me, and so I thought maybe I could do the same for you. There are some areas where a few changes on your part could make things easier for you and help us get the work processed better with fewer customer complaints. For example. . .

Can you sense the difference in those two approaches? The first one has a finger-pointing feel to it, and is likely to cause a defensive reaction. The second one uses a face-saving approach, which lets the other person off the hook so that he or she is not as likely to feel the need to be defensive.

Confronting Poor Work Habits

Another common area where confrontation is called for is when a person has some poor work habit. In this case, let’s say that you are a manager or supervisor and one of your employees is habitually late to work. This calls for a confrontation.

Choosing a good time, you call this employee into your office to discuss some other issue that is business related, so as not to put that person on the defensive, and then at the conclusion of that discussion you broach this touchy subject of being on time. Which of these two approaches would work best?

  1. Before you go, let me point out something that is bothering me. You’ve been late to work a lot and it just drives me crazy. I want every person here on time every day. You’re paid to be here on time, so I’ll be expecting you to be on time every day from now on. I hope that is clear.
  1. I’ve noticed that you have some difficulty getting to work on time. Perhaps there is some good reason for that; if so, you need to tell me so we can work it out by cutting your lunch time or having you work later each day. Is there some reason that makes it difficult for you to be here on time each day?

In the first case, the focus is on “your poor work habits drive me crazy.” In the second illustration, the focus is on the employee’s situation and indicates a willingness to be flexible about work hours if that is necessary. It’s not difficult to figure out which approach would have the best likelihood of generating a good result.

Confronting an Attitude Problem

Perhaps one of the most difficult confrontations is that of attitude. If someone has a negative, wrong attitude, that attitude is likely to make a confrontation less likely to succeed. But yet, a bad attitude does more harm than almost anything else you can name. Let’s say you work with a person who is always negative, griping, complaining and unhappy about everything. Consider these two confrontation approaches:

  1. I’ve noticed that your attitude is always negative. You never seem to be happy about anything, and that makes it difficult to work with you. Your attitude really poisons the atmosphere, so I wanted to suggest that you work at being more positive.
  1. I’ve noticed that you are often negative and unhappy about the job and the people here, and usually a bad attitude is just a symptom of something else going on behind the scenes. I’m not trying to pry, but I was just wondering why you choose to focus on the negative so often. If there is any way I can help you, I’d be glad to try, because attitudes tend to be contagious. Maybe there are some positive steps we could take to help you change your attitude.

Admittedly, this is a more sensitive topic than most, but if you could help someone change from being negative to positive, even a little bit, you will do them a great service. The second approach is less accusing and more helpful in tone.

Compose your Thoughts

The best advice is to take the time to compose these opening words ahead of time. Recently a good friend told me of her need to confront her father, and she was very fearful of doing it. But given the situation, it was absolutely the necessary thing for her to do. So, I suggested she write it out so that when she got him on the phone, her nervousness wouldn’t cause her to stumble with her words and say it the wrong way. She did just that, wrote a couple of paragraphs out before dialing his number, and then did what was difficult but necessary for her to do. And actually the confrontation went well, though she is not sure if he will take her advice. But at least she was able to get it said in the right way and he listened.

When Confrontation Backfires

I’ve encouraged you not to avoid confrontation when it is the right thing to do. But we also have to be aware that even constructive confrontation doesn’t always work, because we do not have total control over how the other person will react. We have some control in the way we approach them and the words we choose, but beyond that, our control is limited.

You’ll avoid a lot of frustration if you remember that even when you do the right thing in the right way, the confrontation may not have an immediate good result. The other person must ultimately choose how he or she will respond, and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you had hoped. That doesn’t mean you failed.

Jesus was often rejected by those he confronted with the truth, and he allowed people to walk away. Even when we believe we know what is best for other people, ultimately we have to be reconciled to the fact that they make their own choices.

In some situations, you may have the power or the authority to execute an ultimatum if the other person refuses to conform. For example, if you confront an employee about their poor work habits and they refuse to change, they may indeed face the consequence of losing their job. But before you present the ultimatum to that person, try to achieve the desired result—changing that person’s poor work habits—in a more conciliatory manner. It may work and you won’t need to issue the ultimatum.

In other situations, you may be powerless to enforce the change you are trying to achieve. Then, depending on the relationship, you have to be prepared to live with it without allowing it to ruin your life, or you have to make changes if you are not prepared to live with it.

So, I want to encourage you to get past your fear and resistance to confrontation and learn how to confront when it is right to do. It is good to speak the truth in love even if it is painful to do.


Constructive Confrontation – Part I

Nov 15, 2014

Part I-

For many of us the very word—confrontation—sends chills up our spines. It almost sounds like a bad word, doesn’t it? And yet, it can be and should be a constructive part of our everyday lives. We shun it and avoid it, as though it will do great harm, when in reality, constructive confrontation can be a very positive thing to do.

Let’s talk about what happens when we avoid confrontation. Suppose you and I worked together and for some reason I had—as we say—a “bone to pick” with you. You were doing something that caused me difficulty in some way or another. But instead of finding the right time and way to bring this out in the open with you and trying to find a solution, I just let it boil up inside of me until what was a small issue became a major stumbling block in my mind.

Now, in this hypothetical situation, instead of addressing the issue in a constructive way, I go into gossip and complaining mode about you. And I tell another co-worker what I don’t like about you, etc., etc. Since this other person is a friend of mine, she is influenced by what I’ve told her about you. Now, instead of solving the problem at its root cause, I’ve spread the problem further and this other co-worker has a negative impression of you because I’ve infected her with my gossip.

You can see how this could continue to spiral throughout the organization, until we have a major conflict involving not just two people, but several others as well. Has the problem been solved? No, not at all, because the one person who needs to be confronted is the object of gossip and backbiting, and she may not even realize that her behavior has caused a problem.

So, fear of confrontation and failure to confront when needed is a very destructive and harmful course of action. I think it is very important that we change our attitude toward confrontation and start to recognize that when we avoid needed confrontation, it almost always leads to harmful attitudes and actions on our part that end up causing problems and trouble for others.

Going back to our hypothetical situation, suppose instead that once I realized I had a problem with you, I chose the right time and place to confront you, and did it in such a way that at least there was a possibility you might handle it well. And suppose that indeed you do handle it well. Now, you are in a position to correct whatever it is that is causing a problem, you and I have an improved relationship, and nobody else needs to ever know anything about it. By constructive confrontation, we’ve eliminated tons of unnecessary stress and avoided all kinds of unpleasant encounters. Good idea? I think so.

Remember when the children of Israel were held captive as slaves in Egypt? God told Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh. . . and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me’” (Exodus 8:20). Moses was sent on a mission of confrontation by the Lord. Unfortunately Pharaoh chose not to take heed to Moses’ warning, and he suffered immense harm and eventual death as a result. But God kept sending Moses to confront Pharaoh in order that these disasters could be avoided. That was the purpose of the confrontations; it was a very constructive and appropriate action to take.

Constructive or Destructive?

Can you think of a person or a situation in your life right now that needs some constructive confrontation? How can you tell if it is constructive or not? Well, answer these questions:

  1. If the confrontation were successfully completed, would the person you are confronting benefit from it?

If so, then it would be a constructive confrontation. That doesn’t mean that the confrontation would not be sensitive or cause some temporary pain. It doesn’t mean that the person confronted would necessarily have a good first reaction to it. But, thinking beyond the immediate reaction, if that person was able to understand the need for the confrontation and that would cause some positive change, then it would be a benefit to him or her.

  1. Does this situation/person really require confrontation, or do you need an attitude change or more patience?

Sometimes we think the other person needs to be confronted in cases where we just need to be more patient and understanding. So, if you’re confusing a need for confrontation with a need for patience, then it’s likely that a confrontation is not called for. You know, people need time to grow and change, and some things just can’t be speeded up; they take time.

This is a lesson I have to continually re-learn because I don’t have a great deal of patience. God has to remind me that everyone doesn’t have to march in my parade, at my speed, and I can trust God to work on the other person at the right time in the right way. So, every disagreement is not a case for confrontation. Sometimes God wants us to learn patience.

  1. Is your desire to confront imbedded in a desire to get even, or is it wrapped up in anger and vengeance?

Here is where our motives have to be carefully analyzed. James wrote: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2). So, anytime the turmoil inside of us is simply our own selfish unfulfilled desires or covetousness or anger, obviously we are the one who needs confronting and changing, first and foremost.

Certainly, even if a confrontation would be called for, we can’t embark on that course until our motives are right. Jesus never confronted anyone for selfish reasons but always for the greater benefit. If we confront for the wrong reasons, even if a confrontation would be helpful, our motives will spoil the whole thing and it won’t produce a good result.

So, as you think about the person or situation in your life who you think needs confrontation, search your heart in prayer before the Lord, read this passage from James 4, and make certain your motives are in line with God’s word. Otherwise you will be confronting in the power of the flesh for the wrong reasons, and I can assure you that will fail miserably.

Tips for Confronting

Once you’ve come to the conclusion that you truly need to confront a person about some situation, then you need to consider several important elements of a confrontation. Remember that confronting is by nature sensitive and delicate, and therefore needs to be thoughtfully approached. A reckless, speedy, unplanned confrontation can lead to disaster.

Wise Solomon wrote: “. . . a prudent man gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs14:15) and “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29). So, patience and prudence are very important as we think about confronting someone.

  • Timing: The timing of your confrontation is a critical point to consider. Make sure you time your confrontation when you are in control of your own emotions. It’s not a bad idea to follow the “sleep on it” rule of thumb before confronting. So, make certain you time it when you are in control and have carefully considered what you will say.

Also, consider timing as it relates to the other person. If you know this is the busiest week of the month for that person, you might be well advised to wait until next week. Or if you are aware that this person has recently experienced a personal problem or a health issue, you would want to take those things into consideration. Someone who is already struggling with another issue will not be likely to handle one more thing very well.

  • Place: Not only is the right time important, but the right place is as well. Never confront when others are present. It should always be a one-on-one encounter. Embarrassing or humiliating someone is sure to backfire on you, so choose a place that is private and conducive to a confidential conversation. Consider an off-site location. That often works best in business confrontations. Consider confronting over a meal. It seems to break down some barriers when we share a meal with someone. But again, it needs to be in a private setting.
  • Avoid finger-pointing: When you are ready to confront, you need to open the conversation in a way that avoids any kind of a finger pointing attitude on your part. Think about it: Whenever someone approaches you in a finger-pointing mode, you will very quickly become defensive. All of us react to finger-pointing in that way. So, if you begin the conversation with something that sounds like “you’re wrong and I’m right,” you won’t get to first base.

Remember, we are aiming at constructive confrontation, an outcome that will be beneficial to everyone, a win-win solution. So we need to choose words carefully, words that don’t create a defensive reaction, if possible.

  • Plan your words: Proverbs 21:23 reminds us that “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Guarding your words carefully is always important, but never more so than when you are confronting someone. How you say what you have to say will make a big difference in whether the confrontation is a success or a failure.

Proverbs 16:21 is very helpful in this matter of confrontation: “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” The purpose of a constructive confrontation is instructive, right? We want to positively instruct someone else so that they are motivated to change. Well, pleasant words promote instruction, or as another translation puts it, “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”

That doesn’t mean that we have to be gushy and certainly not phony as we approach this confrontation. It just means we are wise to choose words that can be swallowed as easily as possible.


Taming the Tongue

Nov 11, 2010

  I remember meeting a young woman in one of my business seminars who I discovered was a Christian. We began to share a little about ourselves. She told me about her job and her church, but what I heard was a stream of complaining and condemnation.   The church wasn’t doing their job; nobody ever offered to help her. She was single and felt they should offer her special help. There were no programs at her church for single women. They never called her on the prayer chain. “But,” she said, “I know God wants me at this church.”   Then she told me about her new job and how they asked her to do too much and they weren’t considerate of her. She had told her boss what she would do and what she wouldn’t do, and wasn’t going to let anyone take advantage of her. But she went on to tell me that she had been laid off from another job just a month before and found this new job in three days. That, as we all recognize, is a major miracle in this economy, and she commented how good the Lord was to give her a new job so fast.   As she walked away, I just shook my head. "What’s wrong with this picture?" I said to the Lord. I felt depressed and kept thinking about all the people in her life who don’t know Jesus and wondering what kind of testimony she was to them. I could imagine that with that kind of tongue, she could do the cause of Christ some damage. Who would want to be a Christian if there was no joy, no praise, nothing to be thankful for?   I couldn’t get her off my mind. I prayed for her. But I kept asking, "What’s wrong with this picture?" She did indicate she loved Jesus and prayed and was thankful for God’s provision in her life, but that was surrounded with complaining and griping and dissatisfaction and criticism and self-pity.   Then it dawned on me: James 3:10: "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing…" And, as James goes on to say, "This should not be." When praise and cursing come out of the same mouth, it just isn’t right; something’s wrong!   And of course I immediately realized that I’m guilty of the same thing sometimes. Blessing and praising God one minute, complaining, worrying and criticizing the next. Can you relate to that? But James says if...


Fran & Jesus on the Job – Gossip

Nov 11, 2010

  Do people gossip where you work–or where you go to church – or in your neighborhood? It’s a silly question isn’t it? Gossip is one of the ugliest, most harmful things in our society, and yet far too often we as believers find ourselves right in the middle of it. Our friend Fran falls into this gossip trap.    As she arrives at work this Tuesday morning, the phone is ringing as she walks in the door, and it’s Andy, her coworker in the Art Department a couple of floors up. Fran’s husband was tragically killed over five years ago, and Fran had to go back to work to support their two small children. Andy has been a good friend to Fran, and Fran keeps praying that she will be a good witness to him.   "How’s Brenda feeling this morning?" Fran asks about Andy’s wife. She is diabetic and has to really watch her diet and exercise.   "Well, it’s tough, you know. She has to cook for us and then she often can’t eat what we’re eating. But she works hard at doing the right things," Andy reports.   "Good. What’s up?" Fran asks Andy. They go over a couple of business-related items, and then the conversation takes another direction.   "Hey, by the way," Andy says, "did you know that Bill Best is leaving the company?"   "No kidding?" Fran says. "Why?"   "I’m not sure, but the gossip is that he was told to resign or be fired," Andy answers.    "But he’s VP of human resources and he’s been here – what–20 years or more," Fran says. "Why would they ask him to resign? He is a very nice person."   "I heard he had been caught in some unethical dealings—something to do with purchasing stock and having inside information," Andy tells her. "I heard he was threatened with criminal prosecution, but they’re letting him off easy."   "Are you sure, Andy?" Fran asks.   "Well, that’s what the guys up here are saying," he adds, “and they usually know what’s happening. If you hear anything else, let me know. I gotta run."   As she hangs up, Fran is really concerned about this bad news. Bill has been very nice to her and seemed to think highly of her. He had asked her to be a part of a task force last year, representing marketing, and she had an opportunity at lunch one day to tell him about her faith...

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