Working With People You Don’t Like (And Vice Versa)

It’s not a real secret that I’ve worked with some people in my life that I really and truly loved as people. They were good people, important people, fun people, and special people in my life. We’ve all worked with these people who were game changers, trail blazers, and those who had profound impacts in the lives we’ve lived and the work we’ve done. Some were leaders, some were mentors, and some, still, were friends, but we still cherish these people in our heart of hearts, whoever they were, for the things they did for us.

Then…there is everyone else. For the most part, I believe we will get along well with most of the people we work closely with in ministry, even if they aren’t people that we hold dear in the long-term. Some are great friends for a season. Some we grow to drift apart from. Some are moderately supportive, flipping back and forth, but we do find we can rely on them for the season they are with us.

Still, there is a group of people that we don’t like to talk about in church…and those are the people that we simply don’t like, or that don’t like us. In a church that wants us to believe we walk around on a cloud, singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” all day as we are dressed in white, we don’t like to believe that “like” has anything to do with ministry. Unfortunately, “like” has a lot more to do with ministry than we’d like to admit. We sometimes talk about love, but the major unspoken factor in ministry today is that we align quickly with those we feel comfortable with. We like messages that make us feel good about where we are, make us feel God is with us and He supports us in our lives. We enjoy the comfort aspect of ministry and the comforts of a God that is on our side…but we don’t enjoy the flip side of things, which is that we are not perfect ourselves. The Kingdom of God this side of heaven is not made up of perfect people. It is made up of imperfect people, with flaws, hurts, and issues, and that means we don’t get along with everyone else.

I don’t think we should base who we work with on who we get along best with, however. I think certain projects and certain works do rate the synergy that agreement brings, but I don’t think this is true all the time. Among the original first-century apostles, Peter and John had issues, Paul and Peter had issues, Paul and Barnabas ran into issues, the Twelve all argued among each other who was the greatest and was the most important…and this should tell us, right then and there, that the most important work in the world did not require everyone to like everyone else. In fact, I believe it is our differences that work things out not just in ourselves, but within the Kingdom, when we willingly work with people that we don’t like – and that don’t like us.

Working with people you don’t like or who don’t like you is not easy, because the friction that exists can rate certain conflicts and discomforts that you should be prepared for. But if you are ready to grow within yourself and grow as a believer, working with people you don’t like is an important part of the process.

There’s a difference between not getting along and being disagreeable – Proverbs 25:24 warns us about disagreeable people: “It is better to live in a corner on the roof than in a house with a contentious woman.” (ISV) Before people jump on the fact that a woman is mentioned here, just like the spirit of Jezebel, contention is a spirit – it doesn’t specifically have a gender. Men can be as contentious as women can. There are people that just don’t get along with anybody. Whether they are gossips, just plain controlling and mean, or the devil disguised as a nasty angel, don’t make the mistake of deciding to work with someone that nobody seems able to work with. These types need to have several seats while they work out their issues with God and their leaders. Working with people you don’t get along with is not some kind of social experiment whereby you prove yourself superior to everyone else who can’t work with someone.

Make sure God is in the equation – Jesus Himself told us: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20, ESV) Whenever we work with another, whether we like them or not, Jesus is in our midst, there, functioning as an agent of grace between the two. I do believe that not everyone is for everybody; my point is that “like” can’t be a deciding factor in that in every single instance. Just like I said in the last point, working with someone just to prove a point or just prove something about yourself will turn into a disaster – quickly. Sometimes we just know we are supposed to be working with people for whatever the reason. Maybe we can see that reason, and maybe we can’t, but when we know we’re supposed to be working with someone, we know it. If this is the situation, then keep God in it, especially when it gets hard. Keep prayerful, keep in your devotions, and ask God whatever it is that He desires to come out of it.

You will get misjudged – Have you ever had people tell you that you’re working with someone and they automatically decide because you are working together that you are suited for one another personally? Have you ever had someone start with the prophecies that, because you are working together well in one capacity, that suddenly you’re getting married, going to date, or going to become extraordinarily close friends? There are way too many people in church today who try to prophesy based on what they believe exists on the surface and make things much deeper or more complex than they are. I believe that working with someone you really don’t like, or who really doesn’t like you is truly an extraordinary task. It takes the gifting of the Holy Spirit to esteem one another and to look at each other as workers in the Kingdom, honoring the gift that is within them, and respecting another’s ministry as much as you respect your own. If you get really good at this, don’t be surprised if other people can’t tell on the surface how you and this other individual really feel about each other. A word of caution on this issue, however: be very careful about the “prophetic words” you receive that take your relationship to a level it was never intended to go. Remember the words of 2 Peter 2:1: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” (ESV) Just because you get along in ministry doesn’t mean that will extend to other areas of your life, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’ve got a relationship God wants to turn into something else. Don’t allow confusion to enter into a situation that already has the potential to be difficult. The wrong prophetic words spoken over a relationship do not mean the relationship will become what people say it will become, but it does mean that spirits of dominance, control, contention, and strife will take on their own spiritual nature of the words spoken.

Don’t force yourself on others – If people are supposed to work together, I believe that the inclination to do so lines up at some point in time. You might know it before the other individual (or vice versa), but at some point in time, it is clear to both parties. If you are both where you need to be in Christ, then you will both figure things out. Step back and wait a bit before trying to make something happen out of nothing. Amos 3:3 reminds us, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” (ESV) We cannot work with other people if it’s all our idea and they aren’t seeing it yet.

Others will not understand – There’s a reason you like who you like, and a reason you don’t like who you don’t like. The reason we have our friends and our people close to us is because they believe in us and like attributes about us. This means when you work with someone you don’t like or who does not like you that you have two camps of people around each of you who will, most likely, not be particularly supportive nor engaging with the other party. Once upon a time, I worked with someone that when I first met him, I really did not like him. I thought he was into weird and strange things, and that he proclaimed a false doctrine. As time went on and he allowed me to train him, he got better, only to get strange, weird, and eventually, problematic again. In the middle, I had to fill in for him as an interim minister when he was on a ministry hiatus, and it was a great shock to me that the people he worked with really didn’t like me. They were rude and nasty most of the time. I thought they would appreciate someone was seeing to it that they had their needs met and that they weren’t having to do without their regular worship and interaction. In hindsight, I’m not sure why it was a great shock, because I didn’t particularly like any of them, either. If I didn’t like their leader, why was I going to like them? It’s too much to expect that your people will like this person and that you will like their people – because there’s a reason you don’t like each other. It is not acceptable, however, for people on either side to act unseemly, rude, or disordered out of dislike. Everyone needs to check themselves, remembering, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31, ESV)

Submit to one another, as unto the Lord – We almost exclusively talk about submission in the context of marriages, but the Bible tells us that the real goal of our relationships should be that every single person in the church submits themselves to every other person: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).” (Ephesians 5:21, AMP) This is harder than it sounds, which is why we don’t hear about it often. The Scriptures literally encourage us to honor the abilities, gifts, talents, and purposes of one another and to serve one another. That’s a mighty big task, especially given we like to segregate ourselves according to comforts. Working with someone you don’t like is a big lesson in submitting to one another, because the dynamic will not work without a mutual humbling and mutual assistance. If one is doing it and the other is not, resentment and bitterness will grow prominent.

Be prepared to love when it’s hard…and love on purpose – The Bible tells us to love one another, not like one another. There are people who argue the point I am about to make, but they aren’t right in their understanding of matters: God never said we all have to like each other. He never expected that we were going to all want to be around each other all the time, or have the same interests, or the same opinions. God did say that we have to love each other. One of the hardest things we will probably ever do in this life is deliberately love people who we don’t like. There will be times when the “dislike” will be very high and very hard to handle, but God still expects that you will love those people, and show them God’s love in your life. Doing things for others, showing appreciation, showing gratitude, helping, and making an effort are all easy when you like others, but much harder when you don’t. Doing so doesn’t mean you are fake, it means you are mature enough to control yourself and realize this ministry thing isn’t all about you, all the time. Live Philippians 2:3 in a situation where you don’t like someone, and you can do it anywhere: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (NIV)

Be prepared to be uncomfortable – Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 provides us brilliant wisdom when it comes to handling awkward situations: “Watch your steps when you go to God’s house. It’s more acceptable to listen than to offer the fools’ sacrifice—they have no idea that they’re acting wrongly. Don’t be quick with your mouth or say anything hastily before God, because God is in heaven, but you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few. Remember: Dreams come with many cares, and the voice of fools with many words.” (CEB) Working with people we don’t like is uncomfortable. Sometimes you won’t know what to say, how to act, or what to do, especially at first. It is especially uncomfortable to work with another person who is doing something or moving in a way that is not the way you believe something to be done. This is different from someone who does not follow protocol and fails to follow rules, or who somehow creates disruptions in events or does not obey the way they should. Such behavior needs to be immediately checked and discussed – if not with you, with a leader or someone else – before such becomes a conflict that cannot be resolved.

Be prepared for authority questions – When you work with people that you don’t have a natural or spiritual symbiotic relationship with (and yes, sometimes we are that way with people), that means we don’t automatically fall into our designated positions with each other. Control is a problem with people who do not get along because both are frequently fighting for position. Trying to figure out a relationship where dislike is a heavy factor can be a tricky and complicated thing. Romans 12:10 tells us: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (NIV) Mutually recognizing each party will have to give in at points is not only a saving grace, it is also one that grounds both parties from thinking one is there exclusively for the other.

Be prepared for jealousy – Relationships with a strong characteristic of dislike are competitive by nature. Our fallen, sinful nature wants to “outdo” those we dislike with a passion, because we want to think that we are better than they are. Your fleshly nature is going to be jealous when this person you dislike gets promoted, and their fleshly nature is going to be jealous when you get promoted. It’s precisely this situation by which we learn how to die to ourselves and esteem the work of the Kingdom over our personal likes and preferences. It’s not an accident Galatians 5:26 advises us: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (NIV)

Be prepared for judgment – Most of us believe the way we handle ministry is the correct way to handle it. If we didn’t believe it to be correct, we would do it another way. This doesn’t mean everyone else sees it that way, however, and it also doesn’t mean that everyone else does things in the same manner. Be prepared to see the world through entirely different eyes at times, and incur the assumption that you are doing something wrong, living some way wrong, and some bossy person intimating you are wrong through implication or assumption. Don’t immediately assume they are wrong, but don’t also immediately assume they are right. Be objective enough to recognize that sometimes people see things in us that we do not see ourselves, and be mature enough to accept correction when it is deserved – and cast off that which is wrong. Sometimes this means standing up for yourself and correcting that individual, and at other times, it means letting things go with grace. Also make sure that you aren’t randomly judging others or the person you are working with, simply because you don’t like the way they do something.

Be prepared for “sandpaper” – I don’t agree that the reason we dislike others is because they have traits that we have within ourselves that we dislike. I believe that we dislike other people because we simply don’t like them, and it is often because they are different from us in a way that rubs us the wrong way. People are all different. We have different backgrounds, different upbringings, different interests, and different gifts. These differences cause us to be different, to notice different things, and to flow in different ways. God put us here to be different, not to all be the same all the time. It’s these differences that help us to polish ourselves: we learn how to argue our position a little better, we grow when we see things from someone else’s perspective, we strengthen what we believe, and we change what we don’t. By working with those we dislike, we become better people ourselves, learning to “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:2, AMP)

Be prepared for conflict – People who don’t get along argue. They fight, they disagree, they don’t see eye-to-eye. There is nothing wrong with conflict; the problem is with unresolved conflict. This is why the Bible tells us to “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:13, KJV). Peace doesn’t mean the absence of issues, but that those issues are resolved in a mature and respectful fashion. If you are going to work with someone you dislike, be prepared to have to talk things out and work out differences of opinion. Be prepared to feel attacked at times and to know how to respond in kind. We all know these instances arise so that we can learn to handle matters and to walk in forgiveness. Most importantly, know when to leave things be or when to discuss them. Sometimes people aren’t where they need to be for things to work out properly and that means the argument will accomplish nothing except for attack and offense…so pray about the proper course of action in each conflict.

Be prepared for departures – People are still people, no matter how much they want to do in ministry. Dislikes are a major reason for conflict, which means departures are often inevitable. If people are unable to follow Biblical protocol for maintaining peace and resolving conflict, it will be impossible for someone to stay in someone else’s life or ministry work. It’s a mistake to assume, however, that when dislike is a factor, people stop working with you because you did something to offend them. We can do everything possible, and some people will leave, anyway. Sometimes the flesh just gets the better of people, and their own unspoken envy, jealousy, and bitterness starts to creep in. Sometimes seasons are just up, and people have done all they can for this part of your ministry or life. Be prepared that working with someone who dislikes you (or you them) means departure is always a possibility. While doing such may mean there are consequences (especially if they behave badly – obviously that cannot go unspoken), it is best to truly wish someone else well and part on as decent of terms as possible, as Numbers 6:24-26 says: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (ESV)

© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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