“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Romans 14:1-23)
Every now and then, bossy people come your way who seek to control you and the church. It’s as well to be ready. Generally they’ve come from another church where they were not appreciated, even though they have plenty of gifts and graces well on display. They just want to be “used of God.”
Paul says welcome them, “but not to quarrel over opinions.” That’s anything of secondary importance. “Let not the one who [has a certain opinion] despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who [has the opinion].”
Apart from one or two essentials, it’s not what we believe, but how we believe together. The bottom line is how we love one another.
But how can we all just get along?
First, Keep Your Cool
One of the most common characteristics about aggressive, intimidating, and controlling individuals is that they like to deliberately upset you in order to push your buttons, pull your strings, and keep you off balance. By doing so, they create an advantage over you, from which they can exploit your weakness.
So count to ten. Just don’t react head-on. Or take time out. If necessary, use phrases such as “I’ll get back to you…” “Let me think about it…” to buy yourself time. By maintaining self-control, you leverage more power to manage the situation.
Second, keep Your Distance
I have learnt that not all aggressive, intimidating, or controlling individuals are worth tangling with. Your time is valuable, and your own happiness and well-being are important too! Unless there’s something important at stake, don’t expend yourself by trying to grapple with a person who’s negatively entrenched. It’s like road rage … don’t get out of the car! Keep a healthy distance, and avoid engagement unless you absolutely have to.
And in the meantime, consult with trusted advisors about different courses of action. Keep your options open.
Third, don’t let it get personal
The first time I got hate mail it made me laugh. I thought “These people don’t even know me!” And it helps to just discount any personal remarks in that way.
Also, try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself what life-experiences have caused their behaviour.
To be sure, empathy doesn’t excuse the unacceptable. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. Not yours.
Fourth, have a clear sense of yourself and your own value.
You have the right to be treated with respect. You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants. You have the right to set your own priorities. You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty. You have the right to have opinions different than others. You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally. You have the right to create your own happy and healthy life.
These concepts represent your boundaries.
Of course, people cross those lines all the time. But you have the right to your own self too!
Fifth, turn it around.
A common pattern with aggressive, intimidating, and controlling people is that they like to place attention on you to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with you or the way you do things. The focus is consistently on “what’s wrong,” instead of “how to solve the problem.”
In Romans 16, Paul said “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles. “ Watch out for it.
So turn it around. Turn the aggression into a question. Aggressor: “You’re so stupid.” Response: “If you treat me with disrespect I’m not going to talk with you anymore. Is this what you want?”
People often intend to dominate and manipulate, rather than to sincerely take care of issues. If you react by being on the defensive, you simply fall into the trap of being scrutinized, thereby giving the aggressor more power while she or he picks on you with impunity. A simple and powerful way to change this dynamic is to put the spotlight back on the difficult person, and the easiest way to do so is to ask questions back.
I sometimes just change the topic. Simply say “By the way…” and initiate a new subject. When you do so, you’re taking charge of the flow of communication, and setting a more constructive tone.
Six, when possible, use humour
When appropriately used, humour can shine light on the truth, disarm difficult behaviour, and show that you are keeping your cool.
But, sometimes you have to confront.
When an aggressive, or controlling person won’t take “no” for an answer, deploy consequence.
The ability to identify and assert consequences is one of the most important skills you can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the offending individual, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect.
There’s a difference between being “weak” and being “false.” We welcome the weak, but we stand against the “false.”
And of course, we slip between those categories ourselves. Peter had an amazing revelation of who Jesus was (Mark 8) and Jesus commended his insight, but Jesus withstood Peter when he suggested that Jesus avoid the pain of the cross. “Get behind me satan. You are minding the things of men.” In Galatians 2, in the face of Peter’s hypocrisy Paul said: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.”
There’s a time to confront.
But pray about when you think that is. And we’ll think some more on this.