Managing Yourself in Conflicted Employment Relationships

One of the most difficult parts of being Christian business owner is when personal relationships with an employee goes south. When conflicts arise, it is in everyone’s best interest to have the conflicts resolved swiftly in a win/win scenario. But what do you do when you don’t know a conflict exists until the relationship is so damage that it’s unrepairable? Believe it or not, this can happen. Some employees are so passive with their anger and so choreographed in their behavior that an owner can be caught unaware of the employee’s true thoughts and feelings. In rare instances, these employees will take legal action against you. More commonly, they will talk bad about you behind your back, damaging your relationship with other employees, customers, partners and/or vendors. The focus of this post is on your response to situations like this. As a Christian in business, how do you handle yourself to these types of events? I offer my unsolicited advice from my own experience.

Counselors are necessary

Bear in mind, you’ll need people who can speak truth into your life during these difficult times. You need to submit yourself to them and honestly appraise your attitudes, actions and words. You’ll need a few trusted advisors with whom you can honestly share your thoughts and feelings and who can offer sage wisdom on how to proceed and who can help you see how you might have handled yourself wrongly in the relationship. This post can’t take the place of real-time, real-world advisors who are close to you. If you don’t have them, then build them into your life as soon as possible.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks

The Bible is abundantly clear that our words come from our heart. Listen to how a person speaks and what they speak about and you’ll know precisely what is in their heart. It’s not rocket science. Make sure *your* heart is aligned with Christ and that you are allowing Him to supernaturally transform your heart so that you genuinely “love your enemy” and can discipline your tongue – which is the most difficult part of our body to discipline, according to James. But listen to how your former employee speaks? Do you hear hurt? Vengeance? Anger? Arrogance? What do you hear? If you can, learn to respond to what’s in their heart, not to the raw message of their words. But above all, guard your heart and mind so that your own anger, arrogance, vengeance or the need to protect your own reputation doesn’t drive your words, decisions and actions. Let God transform you so the words that come out of your heart reflect the heart of God. Let God manage your reputation.

Focus on what you can control

You can’t control another person’s attitudes, actions, words, thoughts, impressions, hunches, musings or world view. And you certainly can’t control what they think about you, what they say about you or any coalitions they build against you. What other people think about you is not your business. As stewards of a business that God has given us, let’s remember that His reputation and interests should be first and foremost in our minds and actions as we carry out our duties as Christian business owners. So, put your energies into understanding yourself in the situation, letting the Holy Spirit control your words, actions and attitudes as you interact with a person who has become your adversary. Understand your unique situation well enough that you know what you can control and what you can’t. Focus on the former – leave the rest to the Lord.

Before you respond – Pray!

Remember, you are stewarding a business for the Lord. In your natural state, you’ll want to respond any number of ways – most of them probably not wise or mature. It’s natural for us to want to defend ourselves while also taking vengeance on the former employee. Don’t do it. You’ll regret it a thousand times over. Remember, it’s not about *you* – it’s about *the Lord*. Ask the Lord to give you an unnatural love and acceptance of the individual who is hurting you. Ask Him to do a work in you that you cannot do in yourself. And be sure to pray for your former employee. I usually ask the Lord to heal our relationship and to bless that individual. I also ask for justice if I have been wronged, but I realize that justice may not come in this lifetime.

Take responsible steps to protect yourself and your business

Several times, when an employee who had submitted his or her resignation was talking with me, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to be economical with my words and watch what I said in their presence or wrote to them. Why? Because it was apparent to me that they were attempting to get me to say or do things that they could later use against me in a legal action. While a business owner should always be “on guard” for potential situations that increase exposure to liability, your radar should be fully “up” when talking with an employee who is exiting the business or who has recently left. Be sure you’re taking the following steps to protect yourself and your business:

  1. Document all under-performance and what you did to correct and/or remediate the employee
  2. Never talk bad about anyone to anyone for any reason within your business. It’s just too risky. Save your “venting” for your trusted advisors or business partners (assuming you get along with your partners)
  3. Some relationships cannot be repaired – so end them – but do so in a way that you get a legal document that releases you from all liability. Now, I assume here that as a Christian business owner, you have not dealt untruthfully or unethically with anyone in your company. If you have, then you need to take ownership of that and repair it as soon as possible. But if you have dealt with everyone – including the former employee – truthfully and ethically, then asking for a full release of liability only makes sense. You’ll need to pay consideration. That’s a cost of doing business. Yes, it’s unfair. But its’ how our system works. You can whine and complain about it or you can accept it and work within it. I suggest the latter.
  4. Pray against any demonic spiritual forces that are working to damage you and/or your business. Ephesians tells us that we don’t wrestle with flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces from the demonic realm. So be sure that daily, you are asking for God’s protection from demonic attacks and then in Christ’s name, you command any and every demonic force to leave your business and to cease all destructive activities in your relationships with employees, partners, vendors and customers.

Practicing these steps isn’t a fool-proof measure to ensure you never have a difficult time with a former employee, but they will sure help reduce your exposure to liability and the frequency with which these events occur.

Take responsible steps to defend yourself and your business

Defending yourself and your business is different than protecting yourself and your business. Protection has to do with the present and the future. Defense has to do with the past. I have learned through experience that former employees have immense power to extort monies from a former employer even though the employer did nothing wrong. People can, quite literally, make stuff up by reinterpreting past events to their advantage and then using legal action or the threat of legal action to (essentially) extort money from you.

IF this happens, remember that God is in control and He expects you to figure out a way to settle the matter before going to court (Matthew 5), even if this means agreeing to a settlement that is wholly unfair. Sometimes, pursuing what’s fair will cost you a great deal more than settling for unfair. It’s a cost of doing business. Don’t let your emotions drive your decisions when defending yourself. Instead, use your advisors and trusted legal assistance to your advantage. Your goal is to get the matter out of your hair so you can focus on running the business and creating profit for the Kingdom. Don’t get side-tracked by stuff like this. Keep your eye on the ball, let your legal team defend you as vigorously as you can afford and then be sure to bear in mind the cost/benefit aspects of defense. Your job is to create profit for the Kingdom, so don’t spend more than you must on legal matters that can be resolved quickly, even though it costs you unfairly.

Vengeance belongs to the Lord

Whatever you do, don’t take vengeance toward the former employee. Don’t hassle them. Don’t make life difficult for them. Vengeance is the opposite of loving your enemy, so don’t do it. Believe me, you’ll be tempted to get them back. But don’t do it. Stay focused on what God has called you to and let Him deal with them in His way and in His time.

Look back and see if you should have fired them earlier

In every case where I’ve had an employee leave on negative terms, I had considered termination of their employment at some point in the past. Usually, if you even think about firing an employee that means it’s time to let them go. As Christians in business, we have a hard time letting people go. We want to believe they can be trained to do a better job or they will somehow magically improve on their own (this *never* happens) or you kid yourself into thinking they are doing a better job than they really are. But still, you’ll look back and more than likely, you will wish you had terminated their employment. Learn from this. Don’t let this opportunity go by the wayside. Learn from it.

Get over the “Christian” aspect

I once believed that Christians – or strongly religious people – would do an inherently better job for me than others. I have pivoted 180 degrees on this. Over my 11 years of owning a business, I have learned that Christians often do a worse job than others and then blame others for their failures. I have had good, solid Christians shamelessly and repeated lie to me on matters that were viscerally important to the success of the business. The damage they caused was immense because I made significant decisions based on untruthful information. Honestly, I can see how others become jaded on Christians in business. We talk a great talk, but our walk doesn’t always match our talk. Just because an employee (or a partner, vendor or customer) is a Christian doesn’t mean s/he will do a better job for you than others. Hire for culture, then competence, but don’t let the fact that they attend your church, denomination or Bible study or the referral of a respected pastor influence your decision.

Change your hiring practices for future candidates

Learn from what went wrong with your former employee and then look for those elements when you interview others. Get your radar “up” high – very high – and walk away from those who will impress you, but who also have the potential to cause you real pain and agony. They are not worth it. Star employees can achieve much but also do significant damage to your organization and cause you a truck-load of pain.

Recently, I interviewed a top-performer candidate for my company. She came with serious credentials and references to the interview. She was (is) smart, disciplined, focused, goal-oriented and willing to work hard until she achieves results. She’s made other owners millions of dollars. She’s ethical in her business dealings and her customers spoke highly of her. After 20 minutes, I ended the interview. I didn’t hire her. Why? Simple. She’s not a team player and she can’t resolve conflict. In the first 20 minutes of the interview, she gave me three different examples of when she had quit – each time because she had a conflict with the owner and couldn’t get it resolved in the manner and form she expected. It was her way or the highway. She couldn’t handle getting “no” and then adjusting to a decision with which she disagreed. Moreover, she made two different comments about her need to have people do things her way in the sales and business development process or “there will be problems”. So I ended the interview early and told the referring person that I wasn’t interested in her candidacy. The referring individual was literally stunned: “She knows how to get things done and she knows how to succeed.” “True,” I said, “but she doesn’t know how to work in a team and the position I would hire her for is a team-oriented position.” The referring individual didn’t see it that way. That’s OK. She will go from job to job, owner to owner, business to business, cycling through each one every 2-4 years, never resolving the most important problems that she faces and never learning from her own mistakes. My decision was to protect my company. I’ll take less in revenue and profit in the tradeoff. That’s an easy decision.

In another interview, my gut told me we should not to hire this individual. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I just felt an unease about it. But since the final decision belonged to another person on my staff, I gave my input and let that individual make his decision. The candidate was hired. It took less than six months for us to start noticing a passive-aggressive behavior on the part of this person. We found that the closer one worked with this individual, the less cooperative this individual was. “I forgot” was a common phrase. “That’s not how I do things” was a persistent theme. Finally, staff members came to me – individually and confidentially, one-by-one – to tell me that they couldn’t work with this individual anymore. Even though this person was doing a terrific job with our customers, this individual was clearly damaging internal relationships and our culture. I wish I had been more assertive at the beginning – insisting that my instincts were right and that this individual should not be hired. Lesson learned. Taking a cue from me, if you even have a whiff of unease about a candidate – regardless of the reason – don’t hire them. In the long run, you’ll find that it’s not worth it.

Epilogue

If you own a business long enough you’re bound to encounter conflicted relationships that should be ended because they are too damaged to repair. When this happens, be sure to pray early and often, work hard to protect and defend the business you are stewarding and then learn from your experiences to improve your hiring practices in the future. Overtime, you’ll find the under-performing, passive-aggressive, negative and/or difficult people will self-select out of your business or you will have terminated their employment. But the “keepers” will remain and you’ll be thankful they are there. Keep your eye on the ball: profit and cash flow. Understand that for some, no matter what you do, you’ll be Satan’s gift to Christian Business Ownership. Some will scoff behind your back at your Christianity. Don’t sweat it. Stay focused on creating profit for the Kingdom and let God examine your heart and life on a daily basis. If you’re successful in God’s eyes, that’s really all that matters.

Bill English, CEO
Mindsharp

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