Do you ever struggle with difficult people? Dumb question, right? Of course you do. We all have people in our lives that stretch the limits of our patience. Just about everyone has someone in their lives that’s an EGR (extra grace required) person.
I’m starting a new blog series that’s going to focus on how to get along with difficult people. We’ll be taking a look at four different types of people over the next four posts: the critic, the control freak, the volcano and the sponge. We will consider each of these four types of people and what we can do to make our relationship with them better and healthier.
Many years ago I had a boss who had just two employees, me and another guy. She loved him but hated me! To this day I don’t know why (what’s not to love here?). By nature, she was an extremely critical person. I rarely did anything right in her eyes and no matter how hard I tried, she was never satisfied with my work or me. The irritating reality in all of this was that I honestly knew my job far better than she did, yet every time I turned around she was nitpicking my performance and in my face about something.
Sadly, most of us have someone in our lives just like that. So what do you do with a person who constantly complains, is generally negative and critical, and often gives unwanted and mean-spirited advice? What do you do with relationships that seem to be more trouble than they are worth?
If you’re like me, your first reaction to a critic is fight or flight. You either want to punch them in the face or run from them as fast and as far as possible. However, unhealthy conflict or EGR avoidance doesn’t typically lead to life or relational health.
There is a better way…
1. Decide to love them no matter what.
I know it seems rather simplistic to say, “love them”, but there is no greater call or greater force on the planet than the love of God shown through us. Nothing has more potential than love to bring lasting change in them and us.
The apostle Paul wrote quite a bit about love (his most famous enlightenment is found in 1 Corinthians 13). Here’s what he said in Romans 12:9, 14, 20: “Love must be sincere. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
Our first and last response to the critic must be sincere love, and love involves blessing rather than cursing. In fact, it goes as far as meeting the needs of even our worst enemy. By the way, we are able to love because God first loved us and empowers us to love one another.
2. Endeavor to understand them.
Again, in Romans 12:15 it says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
To do so requires an understanding about what’s going on in someone’s heart and head.
- Why are they doing what they’re doing?
- What’s going on and how can I connect with them in the midst of it?
- Is there an issue behind the issue that must be understood and addressed?
For example, critics tend to believe that any task not in their hands will fail. They generally don’t mean to be mean, they just live with some tragic false beliefs that deeply affect what they do and how they do it. They tend to be task-driven and are highly motivated out of fear to get it right and to avoid mistakes. All of this may be the result of personal insecurities cultivated by a parent they could never please.
My dad was a pretty harsh father who never seemed to be happy with what I did. As a kid, I rarely (if ever) heard him say, “Good job, son, I’m proud of you!” In his opinion, there was almost always something different, better, or more that I could have done.
When you live with ongoing negative influence—and it is the primary relational model you have—it’s real easy to grow up and become just like that (even if you swore you’d never be like your old man).
Taking the time to stop, to think, and to pray about that critic in your life will help you to understand them better. Understanding is necessary for health in every relationship!
3. Strive to listen to their words and their heart.
We all want to be heard and understood. Our tendency with a critic is to ignore or reject what they have to say because of the way they said it. But it’s important to separate the tone from the substance. Whether we like to admit it or not, often there are grains of truth and things we need to see that we haven’t seen. A wise person will accept the truth and reject falsehood.
Look again at Romans 12; in verse 9 it says, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” And we are admonished in verse 16, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud.”
One of the greatest temptations with critics is to tune them out. But they may know something we don’t know or see something we don’t see. So don’t be proud, but do cling to what is good. One of the ways to “live in harmony” is to try to use their negativism constructively. Tell them, “Thanks for pointing out those problems so that we can come up with some solutions. What would you suggest we do?” In our relationships, it’s important to move from fault-finding to problem-solving. (Click to Tweet this!)
4. It’s okay to draw healthy boundaries.
First and foremost we must love them like Jesus. We love them even when it hurts and it costs us to love them. Then we make every effort to understand them and to hear what they are saying.
But what if they are mean-spirited? Isn’t there a place for loving confrontation and correction? Do I just become a doormat and learn to live with emotional abuse? No, you do not. You can and should set some reasonable and healthy boundaries.
It’s perfectly okay to speak the truth in love and say…
- When you talk to me like that, with that demeaning and angry tone, it’s hard to listen to you.
- When you are overly critical and negative, I feel devalued and it’s like you are taking a sandblaster to my heart and soul.
- When you treat me harshly, it deflates my spirit like a balloon that has just been popped.
- When you are ready to have an adult-to-adult conversation, let’s talk; until then we’re going to take a time out.
Most of us hate confrontation. We’d rather eat glass or wear a speedo in public! But there is a time and a place to lay it on the table—not in anger or wrath or with malice—but speaking the truth in love. We must set reasonable and healthy boundaries to protect our hearts.
Be careful. Sometimes we react rather than respond and abuse back. Counter-abuse (aka: revenge or repaying evil with evil) is not God’s way. So it’s good to remember Paul’s very practical instruction at the end of Romans 12: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge.”
Living with or working for a critic is tough. Seeing it as an opportunity to grow is wise. Do your best, at least as far as it depends on you, to live at peace.