What is the faithful response to toxic working relationships?
The Need for Interdependency
As we’ve heard time and time again, there’s no “I” in team. The Bible describes it as being a “body of many parts”. The point is that groups of people have to work together to accomplish great things. The office is not an exception. Coworkers are bound to each other by common goals and the common need for one another’s help to meet them. Each person has their part but members of a successful team build off of one another’s abilities in order to maximize work efficiency and optimize productivity. Each teammate’s work and/or expertise are critical inputs into the work of others. The result is a web of interdependent relationships where information and outputs are traversing back and forth between peers. It can be confusing but it’s necessary in order to advance toward goals without overlooking important details needed for success.
Restoring Healthy Interdependency
When interdependent working relationships are healthy, there is almost a rhythmic harmony that occurs. Peers begin to anticipate each other’s needs and can work together to proactively address potential issues before they happen. But sometimes the rhythm is broken and the productive harmony is lost. This is a good indication that interdependent relationships have become unhealthy and need immediate attention. Here are a few examples of interdependent relationships that have become toxic and how to put your faith in action to cure it:
Confusing Interdependency with Codependency
Everyone needs help. For a Christian professional, helping is a part of the lifestyle. But there’s a point where help can become harmful. For example, let’s say you have a peer who is constantly turning to you for assistance and you consistently respond to their pleas even at the expense of your work or your work/life balance. There are some questions to ask to determine if this working relationship has crossed over from interdependency to codependency. Are their requests for help always urgent? Are they waiting to the last minute to complete work, knowing you will be there to help? Do they only come to you and never reach out to other peers? Do you feel obligated to pull them out of tight situations? Do you feel a sense of pride that you are always the one to solve their problem? If the answer is yes to at least two of these questions, then you’ve probably confused codependency for interdependency. Their poor work practices have become dependent on your unhealthy need to be a hero, and vice versa. Remember, our Christian faith tells us there’s only one Savior and you’re not Him. This applies not only to eternal salvation but also to day-to-day troubles. Trying to be someone’s personal messiah is dangerous and usually ends with bitter feelings for both parties. The next time your codependent peer reaches out for another urgent rescue, exercise your no…politely of course. Be bold and offer to pray for, or perhaps with them for their peace of mind and for a resolution. Sometimes the best way you can help someone is just to point them to the real Savior.
On the other side of the spectrum, far from codependency, there are the independent peers. These are the coworkers that never ask for or accept help. In fact, they make efforts to circumvent being dependent on their teammates by trying to do everyone else’s job themselves. They often receive an offer for help like an insult, as if it was an accusation that they are inept. The also have very little confidence that their peers will deliver on the help they offer. Their mantra is “if I want it done right, I have to do it myself…even if the work suffers”. You see, the problem is that they are not as versatile as they think they are. No one can be an expert in everything. The frustrating part about working with these peers is that because they leave you (and everyone else) out of the process, there’s often a lot of rework that needs to be done that could have been avoided if they just reached out for help from their teammates on the front end. Often, the best approach to getting this type of working relationship on track is to demonstrate how help works. Invite them and their expertise into a brainstorming session for one of your assignments or projects. Include another teammate with other expertise so they can see what healthy interdependency looks like. It may not change their ways overnight but it will show them that the work of two is always better than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
There are some peers who make you wonder if they’re working for the competition. It seems like whenever they are included in a project, they bring the monkey wrenches with them. You can’t quite tell if they are simply under skilled or if they secretly are out to sabotage you. You are suspicious of their “help” and find yourself avoiding working with them at all cost. But cutting people off like this is not an option in the Christian faith. We must take time to discern before we react. The next time they are directed or volunteer to “help” you with an assignment arrange to observe them doing their work. You can simply say, “I would like to learn more about how you do <fill in the blank>. Can you show me how you start the task?” If they can’t successfully complete a demonstration, then you know it’s a skill issue and offering them some training will be a welcomed suggestion. If they successfully demonstrate aptitude and then suspiciously can’t seem to do the work correctly later when you are not looking over their shoulder, then you may have a saboteur issue. Unfortunately, there are some people who think making other people’s projects fail makes their projects shine brighter. Confront this behavior according to your company’s conflict resolution process. But remember, as Christians we don’t react at the first sign of foul play; we discern first and then respond.
What makes interdependency at work difficult for you? How have you handled it in the past? What will you do differently in the future?
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