The comic strip “Dilbert” has been a newspaper staple since its creation in the late 1980’s. The comic deals with all things work-related: micromanaging bosses, bureaucracy, and ineptitude in the workplace. Another common topic? How to deal with difficult personalities in the workplace.
Perhaps you can relate to this theme. You’ve sought out professional guidance and counsel to deal with that “one” co-worker. You’ve turned to internet articles and even books on managing conflict in the workplace, all to no avail.
But what does the Bible have to say about handling difficult people in the workplace? Thankfully, a lot. In fact, Peter addresses this very issue in 1 Peter 2:18-19:
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”
(1 Peter 2:18–19 ESV)
I think Peter gives us four truths that can help us when faced with difficult personalities in the workplace:
1. Willfully Submit to Authority.
Notice how Peter begins: “Servants, be subject to your masters.” No matter how difficult our work situation may be, God wants his people to willfully submit to the authority that is in their lives. Why? Because a willful, joyful submission to human authorities is one of the ways that we submit to God himself!
2. Show Respect for All.
Peter tells us how to subject ourselves to our bosses: “with all respect.” This is one of the ways that we submit to our bosses: doing so with respect. But we also show respect to our bosses when we treat our co-workers with respect as well.
Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that all of humanity is created in the image of God. Because of that image, each of us has innate dignity. In other words, we treat others with respect because they reflect God, no matter how mean, immoral, lazy, or selfish they may be.
3. See Difficulties as a Chance to Grow Spiritual Muscles.
You are in a difficult situation at work. There’s no sugar-coating it. But have you ever thought that God placed you in that situation to help you grow spiritually? Peter thinks so. That’s what he says in verse 19: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endure sorrow while suffering unjustly.”
When someone else takes credit for your work and blames you for their own mishaps, it’s natural to want to lash out. But God reminds us that these are opportunities to “grow in grace.” Need an example of what this look like? Look to Jesus, Peter says.
“When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
(1 Peter 2:23 ESV)
Next time you are faced with conflict at work, remember that this is a way God wants to make you more like him. He’s giving you the chance to be like Jesus—to endure hardship without retaliation.
4. You Work for an Audience of One.
Peter closes with perhaps the most important truth to remember: who you ultimately work for. Why is it that we submit to our bosses willingly? Why is it that we show respect to others? Because our work is ultimately for God, not for others.
As a Christian, you ultimately work for God. And because you work for God, you want to please him. We do this by trusting that he knows what he is doing giving us difficult co-workers and bosses. We do this by seeking to model him in difficult times. We do this, because our attempts are pleasing and honoring to God.
Remember Who You Work For
Remembering that God is your gracious, empowering boss helps when your real boss is far from gracious and empowering. You may still struggle, but remembering this truth is crucial for dealing with difficult bosses and co-workers.