I often warn people that when they start studying relational wisdom, God is likely to give them homework. That’s what happened last week to a young woman I’ll call “Susan” (all names changed), who just shared this story with me.
Susan’s boss, Barbara, asked her to make travel arrangements for a trip involving their entire executive team. Unfortunately, Barbara’s daughter, Debra, failed to provide Susan with information she needed to promptly reserve the airline tickets. When Susan finally secured the seats two days later, they were more expensive and the schedule was less convenient than originally planned.
When Barbara learned about the new schedule and costs, she lectured Susan about the importance of fulfilling her responsibilities on time. As the lecture continued, Susan felt a growing urge to defend herself by shifting the blame to Debra. But before she opened her mouth, she mentally reviewed the three steps of the SOG Plan.
First she examined herself. Her muscles were tensed up and her heart was pounding, sure signs of the adrenaline triggered by fear and anger. From past experience, she knew that these emotions could easily hijack her brain and prompt a defensive reaction that she’d later regret.
She then reflected on her job security. Her last performance review had been excellent, so she reminded herself that she was unlikely to lose her job over this issue.
She also identified her biggest obstacle: pride. She hated the thought that Barbara and others would misjudge and think less of her. But then she recalled a verse she’d once memorized: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5).
Susan then focused on Barbara, who was clearly angry. Her eyes were wide and her voice was sharper and louder than normal. Remembering times when she herself was that angry, Susan realized that Barbara’s emotions would make it difficult for her to listen objectively to an explanation … especially if it involved criticism of her daughter.
Susan recalled a time when another staff member had blamed Debra in front of her mother. It had not gone well. Barbara immediately jumped to her daughter’s defense and faulted the staff member for the problem. Clearly, blaming Debra for the poor travel arrangements would not help the situation, especially when Barbara was so emotionally stirred up.
Most importantly, Susan turned her thoughts to the Lord and silently prayed, “God, please show me how you want me to respond.”
A recent sermon on 1 Peter 2:21-23 came to mind, reminding her how Jesus had left her an example by suffering wrong without retaliating and by trusting his Father to make things right in his own way.
She then thought of Romans 12:17, which teaches that when we are being mistreated we should speak and act so properly that any reasonable person who eventually learns all the facts will acknowledge that what we did was right.
Finally, one of her favorite verses came to mind: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28-29).
As she reflected on these passages and prayed for humility and grace, she could feel her body relaxing and her emotions subsiding. Seeing that this was not the time to make a defense or to blame Debra, she simply apologized for the disappointing travel arrangements and promised to be more diligent in the future.
As Barbara walked away, Susan decided to let things calm down for a day or so, and then consider whether it would be wise to talk privately with Barbara to explain the situation more fully.
But someone else beat her to it.
A manager who knew all that had happened approached Barbara the next day to explain Debra’s role in the delay. Although Barbara didn’t have the humility to apologize to Susan, Susan was relieved when the manager told her that he had clarified the situation … and commended Susan for her self-control in a difficult situation.
By quickly looking at the situation from three perspectives—being self-aware, other-aware and, most importantly, God-aware—Susan avoided a defensive reaction and responded in a way that revealed her trust in the Lord (Ps. 37:5-6) and gave her a positive reputation that could open a door for sharing the Source of her relational skills.
– Ken Sande
PS: Please join me at a 90 minute RW Webinar I’ll be teaching for the Forum of Christian Leaders on Tuesday, November 3, at 11 am MST (18:00 GMT). FOCL is affiliated with the European Leadership Forum, the conference I spoke at earlier this year (see Battleground Europe). You can register through this link (it takes a few hours to get a confirmation response).
- How do you feel when you think you’re being wrongly accused? What do you typically do? What results does your reaction typically produce?
- To see an example of what happens when we allow our emotions to “hijack” us–and how to avoid such reactions–see the video clips in Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking.
- Can you think of a time when you or someone you know did not become defensive or angry when wrongfully accused? How did that situation turn out?
- What are some Bible passages or stories that would help you to avoid an impulsive reaction the next time you are unjustly criticized?
- How does Susan’s “relational wisdom” response differ from how someone using good “emotional intelligence” would have responded?
- How would you rate Barbara’s relational wisdom? What relational and leadership mistakes did she make? How could she have handled this situation more wisely?
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© 2014 Ken Sande
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