Confrontation in the Workplace

Shoving a memo across my desk I let out a sigh. Maybe the best thing for me to do is to find a different job, I thought.

Turning back to my work, I tried to block out the pain. An hour had passed since the stinging words reached my ears, but I still could hear them, echoing in my mind.

Unaware that I was nearby, I had heard two co-workers talking about the assignment I had just completed. Dorthe was telling Claudia she would be making significant changes to my entire project before passing it on to our supervisor. I felt betrayed, violated.

I couldn’t sleep that night, my mind wavered one minute from angry thoughts of how I could get back at Dorthe to what I would say to my supervisor for not talking to me personally about the work I had done.

Finally in a desperate cry for peace of mind I said, “Oh, God, help me to deal with the pain of this betrayal. I don’t want to be angry with them.” At last I fell into an exhausted sleep.

The next morning I was still angry with Dorthe and my supervisor. As I left the bahnhoff I tried to decide which co-worker I could talk to about Dorthe’s betrayal. As I walked the two blocks to work I mentally rehearsed how I would respond to Dorthe. She’ll probably be feeling superior and will talk down to me. I’ll give her a cold, formal greeting, I determined.

I wasn’t prepared for Dorthe’s usual friendly manner. She acted as though nothing had happened. How can she be just the same as always? I inwardly fumed as I forced myself to greet her with a smile.

All morning I fought thoughts of revenge. When Dorthe stopped at my desk to invite me to join her and three others for lunch I was suspicious. Maybe she wants to make me look bad to all the others, I thought. I accepted their invitation, fearful that if I didn’t go, they would talk about me throughout the lunch hour.

Yet nothing was said during our lunch to indicate any bad feelings from any of the women. I was totally puzzled.

Finally that night I decided to talk to the Lord about it. I spilled out the whole story, as though He didn’t see it as it happened. Then I shared with Him my feelings in a prayer of anguish. Finally, I had no more words to say. Maybe that was what He was waiting for. I simply sobbed a while, then crawled into bed.

When I awoke the next morning, I remembered what the teacher at our women’s Bible study group had said in a recent lesson. “Most relationship problems are simply misunderstandings.” Could it be, I wondered, that I misunderstood Dorthe?

Yet I wanted to be angry. I wanted to take revenge. I wanted to tell someone about how I had been mistreated. But the intensity of my feelings was somehow lessened. What was it the teacher had said? “If we’ll just go to the other person, the relationship can usually be restored.”

As I prepared to go to work I tried to recall the steps of action the teacher had given. “Look for a good time and a private setting.” I wasn’t even certain I wanted to talk to Dorthe, and now I was thinking of when and where I might do so. But it seemed to make sense. I should give her a chance to explain, I told myself. As I secured the lock on my front door, I shot another silent prayer to God for help–if this was what I should do.

As other passengers came and went from the bahnhoff, my mind reached back for the steps described by our teacher. Suddenly I realized my attitude toward Dorthe was changing. No longer did I want revenge. Now I wanted our relationship restored.

That morning I waited for an opportunity to talk with Dorthe. Frequently I said a silent prayer, asking God to help me.

At last the opportunity was right. Alone in the coffee room, I asked Dorthe to meet me for lunch the next day. I was surprised that she seemed pleased.

That evening I searched through a jumble of papers until I found the notes I had made from that lesson about loving confrontation. I read through them, mentally applying them to the present situation.

• Examine my own heart before the Lord. Be sure I’m not going to the offender with an attitude that says, “I’m right and you’re wrong, and I’m going to set you straight.” My goal must be to bring reconciliation, not revenge.

• Look for the right timing and setting to approach the other person, when we will not be rushed and where we can’t be overheard.

Yes, I thought, this may be difficult to arrange in a work environment, but it is necessary.

• Before dealing with the issue, verbalize my commitment to the other person. Say something like, “I really care about our relationship and don’t want anything to stand between us.”

If I can’t affirm Dorthe honestly, I decided, I know I’m not ready to confront her. I must go back to God in prayer.

• Ask God to help me to be open so I’ll hear the other person’s heart. Read the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians–“the Love Chapter”–with the face of the other person in mind.

• Try to let her know I’m eager to hear what she has to say.

• Then, simply go ahead and explain the way I view the circumstances. Start with the way the situation made me feel. Words like, “I felt…” or “It hurt me. In fact, I got angry.”

I’m sure glad I took good notes. All of these are important to remember, I told myself. I’ll have to stick to the facts, reconstructing the events and what was said as clearly as I can recall. I’ll try not to have an accusatory attitude, but that’s going to be difficult.

• After stating the facts as I see them, wait to hear the other person’s viewpoint. Expect defensiveness, it’s natural. Instead, try to go as a learner. Be prepared to adjust my understanding of the situation according to her perspective.

I was surprised to find myself thinking, perhaps I didn’t hear Dorthe’s words clearly, or I may have misread the circumstances.

• It’s at this point that most offenses can be healed and forgotten. It’s easy to extend forgiveness if the offender’s attitude is one of apology and sorrow for causing hurt. It’s important, now, to speak words of forgiveness.

• If dealing with a fellow Christian, suggest you pray together. At the least, verbalize my commitment to the person again.

After making the mental application, I could see that there was wisdom in the advice. I noted that the steps of confrontation were based on a passage from the Bible, Matthew, chapter eighteen: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” I was glad I had not talked to anyone else about what happened.

The passage continued, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along.” This reminded me there was the possibility things wouldn’t be resolved by talking to Dorthe.

At lunch the next day, I followed each step as I could. It was awkward at first, telling Dorthe I was committed to having a good relationship with her. She seemed puzzled. I quickly went on to describe what I had overheard and how it made me feel. I was sure she wanted to defend herself, but didn’t give her a chance until I was finished.

When I finally stopped she began to laugh. That made me angry. It wasn’t funny to me.

Then she explained. It had all been a misunderstanding. Our supervisor had asked Dorthe to collect the assignments and make minor changes based on new information from the department manager. The supervisor would not even be made aware of which papers were changed. I had heard only the end of a conversation and jumped to the wrong conclusion.

That evening I found the Matthew passage in my Bible and studied it for myself. I gained a new understanding of how important Jesus viewed the issue of relationships.

He told His disciples it wasn’t enough to stop with only one try for reconciliation. For a second confrontation, the offended person should take an impartial third person along and go through the steps again. I was relieved I didn’t have to do that.

Then Jesus gave instructions in case the second confrontation didn’t bring reconciliation. In that case, He said, the matter should be taken before the church leaders. I remembered our Bible study teacher had said that was rarely needed. In a workplace situation, I suppose, the appropriate person would be the department head, or even the head of the firm.

Dorthe and I now have a stronger relationship than ever. I’ve had to confront others many times since that first experience. Our teacher was right. Most relationship problems are the result of misunderstandings. I’ve only had to involve a third person in two situations; and I’ve never had to go to my boss.

© Beverly Caruso

Originally published in women’s magazines in Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, in the local languages.

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