I could see the storm clouds of anger brewing on the face of my boss. A company we had contracted didn’t deliver the goods, and I was the unfortunate bearer of bad news. I looked at my feet, I looked at the wall … I looked anywhere but at the explosive man throwing paper coffee cups in a mini-tantrum in front of me. Certainly, I was disappointed at the negligence of a company that had come highly referred, but the finger-pointing and name-calling show that played out in front of me felt more like a personal attack than a business professional reacting to work pressure. Even though I knew his anger wasn’t directed at me, working in this toxic environment was highly stressful.
My boss was notorious for his fits of anger and volatile nature. I didn’t have enough fingers to count how many times I thought I was going to be fired in the evening, only to come back to work the next morning and have him act like nothing happened. Unfortunately, there was a zero-tolerance policy for errors, a high level of fear among employees and a stark lack of kindness. One of my great learning curves during this work stint was discerning how I didn’t want to operate as a future leader and, more importantly, how to respond with kindness and respect even when I was treated poorly.
Choosing To Find Common Ground
When a person like my old boss is triggered towards anger, they lose the adult within them and begin to act like a child. Working in a tense environment like this is less than ideal, but for some there is little alternative. So how do you operate in kindness when you feel attacked and defensiveness?
It’s hard to remain neutral and not lose your cool under pressure. So to diffuse a strained situation with kindness, calmly invite the grownup to come back into the room and ignore the tempestuous eruption and childlike behavior. To do this, you have to find a way to understand and hear what the person is feeling underneath their outburst. You have to find the common ground, or at least find a feeling that is similar, and put yourself in their shoes so you can relate to their frustration.
Sometimes the people who are the most desperate for love act out in very unloving behavior. It’s important to remember that our response to meanness doesn’t have to turn into a slippery slope of tit for tat. A seed of evil, if left unchecked, will only grow in strength and intensity. Scripture is clear that we are to turn the other cheek and forgive even in the face of the enemy. 1 Cor. 13:4 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
We need to operate in humility and try, to the best of our ability, to not succumb to the anger. If you fight back and get defensive, the result is often more exasperation. Choosing to act with benevolence, curiosity, grace and kindness in a volatile environment is the only way to diffuse a hostile person who feels misunderstood. This doesn’t mean we can’t set healthy boundaries for verbally abusive people; it does, however, require treating them with respect, even when they aren’t showing you the same courtesy. To empathize, we must listen, repeat back their concerns, acknowledge their feelings and then move towards a solution.
How Kindness Breaks Down Walls
Kindness, like no other attribute, breaks down the walls that divide us. Kindness is a stark contrast to the hysterical and fragmented culture we live in. Operating in callous and uncaring behavior is easy, but choosing to have self-control, humility and grace is a much higher calling. We all have blind spots – big logs that we don’t even notice that hinder our perspective and our paradigm. If we can keep an open mind, listen and seek gentleness, even in the face of cruelness, then the gospel of Jesus and what some call “sacrificial forgiveness” are alive among us, causing the fruit of the spirit to spread.
Kindness is not simply a character trait we wear; it’s an active choice we make to honor God and the people we come into contact with. Ill-tempered people may never be aware of our silent prayers and the hard work we put in to love like Christ, but they will notice kindness in the face of their poor behavior, especially because it’s so counter-cultural these days to show mercy.
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