We all know people we do not get along with. You know, those people that just rub us the wrong way and everything they say and do annoys us. Okay, maybe I am the only one that experiences this. But, let’s say you may happen to run into someone like this in the future. How do you respond? Do you not make eye contact and avoid the individual at all cost (yes, I’m guilty- I have done this)? Do you smile and pretend to like them, while secretly wishing they would just go away (guilty)? Do you let them know exactly how you feel about them in hopes that they will steer clear of you in the future (yep, I’ve done that too)? All of those are options, but are they the best options? While all of those options may be effective, they do not help us grow. Growth is something we should all strive for whether it be spiritually, professionally, or relation-ally. And, growth does not happen by avoiding conflict or difficult people.
I have learned difficult people can be some of the best growth partners. Yes, I said growth partners. Typically, in my experience, growth doesn’t happen in comfortable situations with folks that I just love being around. Growth tends to happen when I am stretched beyond my comfort zone and forced on my knees in prayer about difficult situations. Difficult situations often come with difficult people (or is this just my experience?). Unexpectedly, difficult people are often a blessing in disguise. And, while I do not typically end up being BFF’s with most of my growth partners; I do gain an appreciation for their purpose in my journey. When I look at them as growth partners I see that they have something to offer, which humanizes them and allows me to try to see the world through their lens (even if I totally disagree with their world view). Below is a list of things to consider when dealing with growth partners.
- What about this person is bothering me?
- What can I learn from this person?
- Does this person remind me of someone from my past? If so, who?
- What was our relationship like?
- How can I pray for this person?
- What about me needs to change in order to interact with this person in a healthy, positive way?
- What am I communicating to this person with my body language and with my words?
- How can I encourage this person?
- What is God trying to teach me about myself through my interactions with this person?
Changing our perspective about difficult people can have a positive impact on how we interact with them. If I can see a difficult person as someone that is helping me to grow in patience rather than someone that just gets on my nerves or as an adversary, then I am more likely to treat them with patience and respect. If I take into consideration the questions above when dealing with difficult people I may come to see the problem I have is less with the difficult person and more with the unresolved issues that they happen to be triggering within in me. That is not always easy to identify or process. It is much easier to see them as the problem and keep it moving rather than address my own hurts and brokenness.
Growth partners come in various forms and we meet them in various places and stages in our life. So, who is likely to be a growth partner?
· Co-Workers: Your place of employment is possibly the best place to find a growth partner. Many of us spend more time at work then we do at home and if we do not work alone it is likely that we are going to come in contact with growth partners. Rather than avoiding this person, embrace the growth process and move beyond- seeing Sally Co-Worker is a difficult person, but rather someone I have learned from.
· Spouse: I assume most of us don’t think difficult person when we think of our spouse. After all, we married him/her because we felt connected and in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, right? Remember, I said that growth partners come at different stages in our lives. Well love relationships can be difficult and when the initial infatuation rubs off the work to stay in love and stay married begins. We often learn the one we vowed to love until death do us part comes with some baggage (as do we) and sometimes that puts them in the growth partner category. Those quirks that use to be cute are now annoyances. Our competing priorities and desire for connection can come across as attacks and there are times when we can see each other as enemies rather than lovers. If we can identify each other’s request for connection for what it is rather than an attack we can begin to reconnect, love deeper, and grow together.
· Neighbor: A recent article on DailyMail.com Hate thy neighbour! claims 60% of us do not like our neighbors. The article mentions annoyances such as loud children or pets, too many late-night parties, blocking driveways or using their parking space, and they are always showing off. We do not live with our neighbors and it may be easier to avoid interacting with them, but you may be missing out on a great opportunity for growth and relationship building if you try to see one another’s point of view. There are benefits to having a positive healthy relationship with our neighbors. Neighbors can keep an eye on one another’s home while the other is away. They can be sources of support when we experience loss within our family. They can be guest when we bar-b-que or watch the super bowl. I am a huge supporter of erring on the side of connection and relationship when possible. Why settle for enemies (over superficial annoyances) when we can create long lasting relationships through cooperation, tolerance, and humility?
· Fellow Church Member: uh-oh yes, I said it and I say it from experience. I am beginning to believe God is strategically placing growth partners in my path in the form of “little ole church ladies.” Lord bless them. I have to chuckle because it never fails- I will be approached by a “well-meaning” lady regarding my hard to handle boys, my lack of panty hose, or my open toe sandals. I know she is “well-meaning” because she tells me so. She says something like “I am only saying something because I don’t want people to judge you” or “I know you don’t want to be a stumbling block, so I am trying to help you out”. While her intentions may be pure, I can’t help but feel attacked. I have learned to respond with grace rather than with defense, but I still feel the sting of it and I still find myself pondering over it longer than I should. That is an indicator of growth that still needs to take place within me. Usually, the graceful response is received much better than me telling her about herself and leads to friendly, more tolerable conversations later.
And the list could go on and on. I am sure, based on your own experiences, you could add to this list of potential growth partners. However, I encourage you not to focus on the individual as a problem, focus on how you can learn from this individual and have a positive interaction with them. Spend time building others up and in the process, open the door to relationships where you too can be built up as well.