What's Tony Thinking

Dealing With Jerks (Without Becoming One)


Spotted this helpful piece on dealing with jerks, and wanted to pass it along.

Pastors and lay leaders all too often find themselves dealing with people behaving badly. For some it is a temporary bit of bad-acting. But not infrequently it has become, for others, their modus operandi. And, too often, churches let them get away with it with various rationalizations, “Oh, that’s just the way he is,” or “We just have to love her more,” or “I guess it’s our cross to bear.”

No. Not really.

Bad actors can be confronted in direct but defusing ways. The article cited above provides some helpful examples of being direct without being defensive, or responding to obnoxious behavior in kind.

Perhaps you’re wondering what qualifies as “being a jerk.” Here’s the author, Adam Grant.

“They’re the people who demean and disrespect you. They might steal credit for your successes, blame you for their failures, invade your privacy or break their promises, or bad-mouth you, scream at you and belittle you. As the organizational psychologist Bob Sutton puts it, they treat you like dirt, and either they don’t know it or they don’t care.”

I particularly liked the closing paragraph.

“If all else fails, Dr. Sutton has a tip for changing your attitude toward the situation: Pretend you’re a specialist in jerks, and think about how you’re ‘really lucky to see this spectacular, amazing specimen.'”

That’s a bit of mental ju-jitsu that, again, isn’t easy to pull off, but is possible and may introduce some distance and/or levity into the situation that saves the day, at least for you.

The larger territory we’re dealing in here is what David Brooks today speaks of as “norms.” He points out that we’re in a chaotic period with respect to social norms, due in no small part to having a President who daily disregards norms of decent behavior.

But Brooks also argues that norms can be renewed and revived. He speaks of each of us having the power to “create cultural microclimates,” which is what Adam Grant is illustrating in his advice on dealing with jerks.

Could a congregation be such a “cultural microclimate?”

Here’s Brooks,

“We’re living in a moment when norms are in maximum flux. Donald Trump has smashed through hundreds of our established norms and given people permission to say things that were unsayable just a decade ago. Especially in politics, the old rules of decorous behavior no longer apply.

“But we all have the power to create cultural microclimates around us, through the way we act and communicate. When a small group of people shift the way they show approval and disapproval, it can shift the social cures among wider and wider circles. Suddenly, revolutions. The whole school of fish has shifted course in rapid ways that would have astounded us beforehand.”

This can happen in congregations. Of course sometimes the temptation in congregations is simply to pretend and sweep problems under the rug. “Let’s all be nice.” But Grant isn’t calling for cover-up, rather for calm and courageous confrontation. “Confrontation,” etymologically speaking, simply means “coming face to face.”

Through such acts, practiced consistently a congregation can become a “cultural microclimate” that is a “light to the world and salt to the earth.”




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