I admit to having felt annoyed at some people.
- When I was a doctoral student, I submitted chapters of my dissertation for review only when I thought they were perfect. My faculty adviser returned each chapter several times pointing out arguments that needed strengthening and additional issues that could be researched.
- A couple of board members over the years have stuck a spoke in my wheel with suggestions which added a lot more work to something I wanted to do.
- I’ve had a certain number of pessimists in my life, the Eeyores who can dampen a roaring fire just by walking into the room.
How should Christian leaders think and respond when we feel annoyed at someone? I’ve already written about responding to people whom God may be using to give us prophetic correction, so here I want to discuss how we deal with our own feelings of annoyance. As leaders, we don’t want our personal feelings to damage relationships with our teams. So how should we handle the feelings which annoying people evoke in us?
Are they really annoying?
First, change the lens through which we view and assess the situation. We may think people are annoying when really they are challenging us for our own benefit. With a new lens, you might see that they are trying to help you. Perhaps they see potential in you which you don’t see in yourself:
- They may be pushing you to think more deeply, in which case you will likely come up with something even better than you had on your own. My faculty adviser told me he was being more stringent than usual because “I know you are up to the challenge.” He was prodding me to use the very most of my intellectual capacity.
- I’ve followed through on virtually every suggestion offered by a board member, and have always found they improved the final product. Once, I was going to assemble a group of young adults to do some strategic thinking for CCCC with me. To keep it cheap, I was going to do it in Ontario. And when I told the board, someone said I really should do it in the West as well. Oh my, that would mean the cost and time of flying out! I didn’t want to do that, but I did. And it was a great group! He picked up on what I wanted to do and combined it with our position as a national organization. It turned out great. He caused a lot of extra work that I really didn’t want to do, and I’m glad he did.
Herbert O’Driscoll makes this point very well:
There are people in all of our lives who force us out into deeper waters than we wish to go, push us to perform, help us to mature, drive us to achievements of which we do not feel capable. These people, sent into our lives by God, make us realize that we are capable of far more than we ever thought. One or more of them may be making demands on us now, uncomfortable demands, exasperating or annoying demands. These people show us who we really are, and bring us to realize that we have resources, and can make contributions, beyond our wildest dreams. In all such people we find our Lord himself, who never leaves us, but enters our lives in many guises.
Herbert O’Driscoll in God With Us
So ask yourself, “How might God be using this person for my good?” You may not have to do anything more than this to get over your annoyance. However, if this doesn’t work, then keep reading for some more strategies.
I’m not annoying…am I?
It’s important to remember that most people never intend to be annoying. In their own mind, they are perfectly logical and fully justified to be the way they are, to say what they say, and to do what they do. They believe they are reasonable people, easy to get along with. The problem (they think) isn’t them, it’s you! When you both think the other is the problem, it’s hard to have a decent relationship! Could it be that you’re the annoying person in the crowd?
That’s a very strange thought to me, that I could be annoying to someone else! It’s never been my intention to annoy anyone, because life is happier for all of us when we get along. But the fact is, if there are people who annoy us, we are most likely annoying them too. So what can you do to stop the vicious cycle of mutual annoyance? Do some critical self-evaluation and change the effect you’re having on the relationship by sorting out what the real issue is.
What’s the real issue?
Here’s how to discover the real issue. When someone annoys you and you can’t see any good in it,
- Identify exactly what you find annoying.
- Flip the annoyance to the reverse: For example, if they are too slow for you, then you are probably too fast for them. Realizing how you are likely annoying them should soften your approach to dealing with the annoyance.
- Define the real, underlying issue as precisely as you can.
Let’s say you find someone on your team is always negative. Their negativity makes you think they:
- have little vision
- are opposing you,
- don’t want to succeed
- aren’t a team player
- have little faith
The main thing that annoys you is that they are preventing you from getting something done that you want done.
The flip side is that they probably think you are:
- not grounded in reality
- insensitive to the concerns of others
- arrogant in your confidence
- a lone ranger
- a foolish risk-taker
The real issue between you might be that you have different priorities related to taking action and minimizing risk. To align your priorities,
- The other person needs to appreciate the need to move the mission forward expeditiously with an acceptable level of risk, and
- You need to appreciate the benefits of group wisdom to improve the prospects for success.
You have now identified the cause of the annoyance and what the solution is. But this is just from a human perspective. As a Christian, you know there is a spiritual element to every aspect of your life, including the things that annoy you. So, next you need to ask: Where is God in this annoyance?
Where is God in this annoyance?
We can go to the bank on this biblical premise: God is always present in our lives, and is always working for our benefit. So you can be sure that in the annoyance between you and someone else, God is there with both of you and he is working for the good of both of you. You may see it as a win/lose scenario, but God doesn’t. However, you can’t focus on what God is doing with the other person because God wants you to focus on what he wants to do in you. The key is to understand how God wants to resolve the issue by changing you. You work on yourself and leave it to God to work on the other person.
- Review the fruit of the Spirit, because this is what God wants to see flourishing in your life. Which fruit or fruits relate most closely to the issue?
- Review Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, because God wants you to love as he loves.
- Reflect on the meaning of Proverbs 27:17, which says that we sharpen one another.
- In prayer, think about the cause of the annoyance that you identified and how it relates to the fruit of the Spirit and Christian love.
- Discern how God wants you to grow to be more like his Son through this person who seems so annoying to you. The goal is to no longer be annoyed by the other person, and to stop being an annoyance to the other person, because you will be more Christlike in relating and responding to other people.
- Thank God for using this person to help you be a better Christ-follower, and ask God to bless that person.
Now you know both what the solution is, and the manner in which you should engage with the (now) formerly annoying person, you are ready to talk with them.
In this example, you’ll probably identify that you need to demonstrate more love, patience, gentleness, and possibly self-control. You may need to stop thinking dishonourable thoughts towards the other person. That means you must stop attributing bad motives to their behaviour. You may need to erase a list of grievances you’ve been keeping track of. You will decide to trust that the other person doesn’t intend to be annoying, and therefore you will be more kind towards them, and seek to understand them better.
How can we move forward together?
Now that you know how God wants you to grow in Christlikeness, you get a chance to practice the new way of being.
- In Christian love, and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, make an opportunity to meet with the other person.
- What you do next depends on whether or not you need to apologize. If the other person doesn’t know you’ve had bad feelings towards them, don’t open a can of worms by apologizing. Confess to God and move on. But if your feelings are out in the open, apologize and make sure it is sincere. If the other person is self-aware and a mature Christian, they will respond with an apology of their own, because they should realize that they also did not seek to understand you better. However, if they don’t apologize, just move on with these steps.
- Say to them that you’ve been thinking about the general topic and would like to discuss it further.
- Ask questions for greater understanding. Ask about their priorities, goals, values, preferences, hopes, and fears. If there is a specific case at hand, use that as the example. After they have shared their answers, you can share yours.
- Identify together what you share in common, such as a goal or a value.
- Discuss the differences between you with a focus on the benefits of each.
- Together, find a way of working as teammates that both of you can live with, assuming that you both are committed to exemplifying Christian maturity. You may not be completely happy with the new way of working together today, but you recognize that as you grow in patience or kindness, you will one day be happy with it.
Assuming that there hasn’t been open conflict, here’s how you might do step three. You wouldn’t want to start by saying that they are frustrating you with their behaviour. The better way would be to say “I’d like to talk about how we determine the best way to make a decision whether or not to proceed with a new project.”
Questions you could ask include:
- What are the criteria you use in assessing a project?
- What is your overarching goal when considering a project?
- When I give you a proposal, what factors would you like it to address?
- What is the best process for evaluating an idea?
- How much risk is acceptable?
Hopefully you will discover that, for example, you both share a common commitment to the mission and the strategy to accomplish it. This means that you can say you are both working towards the same goal.
You might discover you have different risk profiles, and that you have different evaluation criteria. Your criteria might be the goodness of the proposal’s fit with an outside audience (beneficiaries, stakeholders, donors) while the other person might be thinking more about the negative effects the plan might have on staff. A way forward would be to identify the risks and find as many ways to mitigate them as is reasonable, expand the decision criteria to encompass both sets of criteria and then find ways to address all the concerns. You may need to at least outline some contingency plans and create some interim evaluation points.
Don’t stew any longer about how annoying someone is. At the first hint of annoyance, ask God to help you work through these steps. You’ll be a better person for it.