Sensible Christian advice about dealing with unpleasant workplace behavior.
(This is a transcript of five short radio talks)
Gossip, backbiting and jealousy—these are topics I would prefer to avoid because they're not much fun! But these are very real issues facing marketplace Christians.
Gossip is defined as mischievous or idle talk about the affairs of others. It is usually degrading and belittling, and always unnecessary. Backbiting is making a verbal attack on someone behind their backs when they're not around to defend themselves. It's similar to gossip, but more malicious and with more evil intent. Jealousy indicates resentfulness and hostile envy toward someone because of their seeming advantages, good fortune, etc.
Well, as unpleasant as these topics are, the facts are, many of us work in environments where these three things are common occurrences. How do you deal with it? I've noticed three common reactions you'll find to gossip, backbiting and/or jealousy:
1. Some people fight fire with fire. If others are going to gossip about them, they gossip about others. When someone talks about them behind their backs, they return the favor. Their mottos are: "Take care of Number One," "Get them before they get you," "Learn to play the games," or "Don't let anyone run over you." These are the people who let the crowd bring them down to the low level of gossip, backbiting and jealousy, and they catch the same disease.
2. On the other hand, there are others who simply sigh huge sighs of frustration and resign themselves to the inevitableness of the situation, not because they don't want to fight, but because they don't know how and they're afraid. Lots of people do that, particularly women, because they want to avoid confrontation. These people often harbor a great deal of anger underneath the surface, which comes out in other unhealthy ways. But on the job, they try not to show their feelings.
3. And then there are those who go on a campaign to rid their working world of these diseases of gossip, backbiting and jealousy. The methodology for this option is to accuse, confront, expose and lecture, and while the motivation may be admirable, the results are usually disastrous. It is often a condescending approach and a condemning approach which turns people off.
It's pretty obvious that none of these are suitable Christian responses. But what is suitable when we find ourselves in a job that daily inflicts upon us a barrage of gossip, backbiting, and jealousy?
The topic this week is not terribly lovely, but very realistic. I'm talking about dealing with gossip, backbiting and jealousy, especially when you work in that kind of environment.
One important element in dealing with people is to understand why they are the way they are. Well, one reason people make these malicious, unflattering, spiteful comments about others is that they feel very insecure about themselves, and this is a destructive way they have developed to try to make themselves look better. It certainly doesn't justify their behavior, but you can at least see why they do it, and that helps you cope with them better.
Also, there are specific occupational conditions that serve to encourage destructive interrelationships among people. Some professions, some management styles and some organizations seem to promote it more than others.
But there is a deeper cause which we need to understand very well, and we can find that in 2 Timothy 3:1-3:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come, for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good.
Paul tells us that it's not going to be easy to get along with other people during the last days, because people will love themselves and money above all else. Furthermore, they will not be appreciative, and you won't be able to get them to reconcile their differences; they'll prefer to hold on to their hurt feelings and bitterness. They will be malicious gossips, without any self-control or any desire to be good.
Does that sound like some of the people you work with? This is the real root cause of the epidemic of gossip, backbiting and jealousy which we often encounter. It is a sign of the evil times in which we live.
Some environments are worse than others, and you may choose to escape the situation you are in, if it is particularly oppressive. But you will never escape it altogether.
Well, it is a very sad situation. But why not focus on the good news. The proliferation of this kind of evil environment is a sign that this world won't last forever! We may be victims of it now, but it won't always be this way. I think this gives us hope, and that's a good way to think about it.
We've been looking at the unpleasant reality of dealing with gossip, backbiting and jealousy. Certainly many work environments are filled with those things, and we need guidance on how to deal with this. But before we can deal with it in others, we must clean any trace of it out of our own lives.
In Romans 1:29-31 we see that malice, gossip and slander are listed with murder and haters of God. We need to remind ourselves of how God views these sins. They're not just personality defects or bad habits. They are deadly, awful, despicable sins. The Bible couldn't be clearer on this point.
We should understand that our old human natures will be readily inclined to retaliate if we are the brunt of the gossip and jealousy of others. And usually that retaliation leads us to use those same tactics on others. Probably a more subtle form is letting others bring us into their gossip, and before we know it we're joining them in disparaging others and talking behind their backs. Remember too that willfully listening to derogatory discussions is not much better than joining in.
Disciples of Jesus Christ operate under different rules. That's the way it is, and it applies to our business worlds as much as to anything else. He wants us to love unlovable people; His career path to the top is by taking the last place and yielding to the rights of others. That means no jealous maneuvering on our part. That means no gossiping or backbiting. That means turning the other cheek, and suffering unjustly at times. Those are our guidelines.
You say, "Well, we'll always end up on the bottom of the pile. Everyone will take advantage of us. We'll never get ahead." That may be true, though not necessarily. But it simply does not change the fact that to be His disciple, the price is complete obedience. John wrote that to love God is to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome (I John 5:3). So, no matter how unreasonable it may seem, or how difficult, we can trust God that His commands are not burdensome; He will enable us to obey if we love Him enough.
Are you in a spot where there is a lot of gossip, backbiting and jealousy? Ask God to help you shine like a light in that dark world. You're not there by accident, if you are a child of God, and if you can operate there without letting it taint you or bring you down, you're bound to be a wonderful testimony to people all around who can't help but notice the difference.
Is it ever appropriate to be confrontational with someone in order to try to eliminate an atmosphere of gossip, backbiting and jealousy? We've seen how important it is for us to take the role of a servant, go the extra mile, keep ourselves above all the inappropriate behavior, and maintain our testimony. However, are there times when we should confront this kind of behavior?
Yes, Jesus frequently confronted wrong behavior and attitudes, without hesitation and forcefully. Using Him as a role model, we can learn how to confront.
First, we have to check out our motives. Jesus never confronted people for His benefit or because His rights were being violated. He never confronted out of retribution or vengeance. This is an important guideline for us to keep in mind when we're considering confronting someone. Dig deep underneath the surface and face realistically what your motives are. God may want you to confront, but He may want to clean up your attitude first.
Now, if you're like me, confrontation makes you nervous and uneasy. That doesn't mean it's wrong to confront, but we often have a few butterflies in the stomach, and that can cause us to lose control of our thoughts and words. So it's very important to give it time and much prayer. Talk to someone whose opinion you value, put yourself in the other person's shoes as you think about what you're going to say. It might be a good idea to write it out.
The nature of your confrontation will vary based upon the circumstances. If you're in a management role, you may be able to exert more influence and eliminate some of that malicious behavior. But keep in mind that we motivate people best when we show them how they will benefit by changing their behavior.
However, it's impossible to legislate morality and the only real answer in eliminating gossip, backbiting and jealousy is for people to care about other people. The best thing we can all do is role model a caring and compassionate attitude toward others, even in confronting, and that can have more effect than anything else in turning these unpleasant situations around.
However, keep in mind that it simply is not possible to totally eliminate this kind of environment while we live in this sin-infested world. It goes with the territory.
I’ve been talking about the dilemma many Christians face when they work in an environment that is full of gossip, backbiting, jealousy and company politics. Taking any kind of stand against that behavior could be costly.
It may be that just simply refusing to join in will alienate you from your coworkers. I've seen situations where managers took retribution on those who refused to become participants in the office political games. There is the possibility that your coworkers will blackball you and lie about you and do everything they can to make you look bad. You can be made to look like the troublemaker, simply because you refuse to be a part of the problem.
Discipleship is costly. I once heard a minister say: "You'll give your life for something, or you'll throw it away on nothing. And whatever you give your life to, there's a price to be paid. Jesus spells the cost out up front where you can see it. When you pay the cost, you're involved in that which is eternal."
There's no such thing as a free lunch, as they say. You'll pay a price either way. You have a choice; you may choose not to live by God's rules in a world that gives us no credit for doing so. Or you may choose not to pay the price of discipleship. It is particularly sad when Christians take that course.
I did that for ten years. The real kicker is that I paid the price to do it my way, but I didn't get anything for my money. My way was one big failure. Who knows what God could have done with those years if they had been given to Him. Instead, all I did was to promote myself and my own ambitions, and everything I achieved was temporary, of no lasting value and gave me no long-lasting happiness or contentment.
I encourage you not to make a foolish choice. Whatever cost there is for you to be a disciple, it still offers the best return on an investment you'll ever get. You never know what seeds you are sowing when you take a stand for Jesus. It may look like disaster to you, but eternity will tell how God used it to reach others and to further refine you for His eternal purposes.
I want to encourage you to see yourself as a missionary sent to that dark world. Somebody there is looking for a light in that darkness. You may not have any clue who that person is, but don't waste this opportunity to let them see Jesus in you.
Mary Whelchel is founder and president of The Christian Working Woman. This set of five talks was broadcast during the week of 9-13 August 2004. © christianworkingwoman.org Used with permission. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.