A Principle for Working with People

By January 7, 2013Church, Leadership

What do you mean?!

When I was in the retail business, I once had an employee who went through a period…one that lasted several weeks, where she was rude to customers. Of course, in retail, the way. She had been a good employee, but something changed. Of course, in retail, the way you treat customers often determines whether or not they return. I wrote in THIS POST about when a business can give bad service or be inflexible, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Customer service can make or break a business’ success.

I was a young leader, but I knew I had to address it with her and did so on several occasions. She never made excuses, just apologized and said she would improve. She didn’t. As the problem continued, I felt the need to address it more seriously. As I was about to release her from employment, someone, in passing, shared with me something about this person that I didn’t know. She was struggling with some incredible pressures at home. I won’t share details here, but it was enough to make anyone stressed. Consequently, when she would deal with a difficult customer, her emotional state caused her to react in an equally difficult way. It wasn’t right. It still couldn’t continue, but at least I knew why it was happening. Instead of releasing her, I was actually able to help her. We saved a valued employee.

It taught me of an important principle in working with people.

Consider their heart before considering their actions.

It is not only the right thing to do, and a good leadership principle, it’s actually a God-like attribute. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Now, as a pastor, a leader, a customer, or a friend, I try to consider what could be going on in a person’s life before judging their behavior. It helps me lead. It helps me care. It helps me pray. It helps me respond in a loving way.

It works with employees, waitresses, family or friends. It changes my attitude even if it doesn’t change theirs. And, many times the way I respond determines the way they respond.

There are still times where people are simply rude. They simply under perform expectations. Those situations still need to be addressed. That’s part of leadership too. But, understanding a person’s heart helps you address the real issue, rather than simply addressing symptoms. Even when it’s determined there are deeper issues, there will be times the person simply isn’t a fit for the position, but at least you will have understood and had opportunity to address the real problem.

I try to remember, people have injuries. People have stories. People’s actions are often indicative of their stories.

Knowing the story behind their actions, will often alter your response to their actions.

Have your actions ever been misunderstood because people didn’t know your whole story?

Whose heart do you need to consider (or as) you are considering their actions?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Ron!I agree.

    It's essential to know the more than what meets the eye. We can find what works and what does not. But many do not understand why it works or otherwise.

    This becomes possible when we lead authentically from our heart and not the head. (I have seen many leaders who are act phoney with their employees.) We can confront the non-performing/ deviating staff and not allow them to abuse the grace shown to them.

  • kmac4him says:

    I worked in banking for years and to start out my career, I had the most perceptive head teller. I was being stalked by a man who kept leaving death notices in my car and coming up to my teller window like he was a customer and just staring at me and then walking away. My father was a police detective, so he was taking care of it, but I was nervous as a cat and made a lot of mistakes in my job that I was normally pretty flawless at. I did not tell the head teller even though my dad told me to tell her, because I was afraid they would move me out of that office and I loved working there. She kept me after work and asked me what was wrong; she knew something was wrong with me. Her compassion taught me at a young age that as a business person it was okay to be compassionate as long as that compassion was accompanied by responsibility and accountability to your company. Compassion without responsible accountability is enabling. She was very compassionate with me when I told her the truth and she did the responsible thing, by moving me out of that office for a few weeks, it probably saved my life. I was too young and irresponsible to make that choice, I had the attitude at my age that I was invincible. She was compassionate, responsible and accountable to her business, balancing all three made her a business person of empathy, not an irresponsible enabler.

    Twitter: kmac4him

  • Josh Hanson says:

    The longer I'm a pastor the more I try and ask "What's behind this person's attitude?" There's so much hurt, pain, struggle, and insecurity in the world that people notice when you don't react to their behavior and instead seek to understand them more. And usually, like you stated, their attitude becomes understandable though not acceptable.

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