How do we work happily alongside people who disagree with us? How do we navigate conflict wisely in a workplace?
This has always been an interesting and important question. But it’s particularly pressing now. Everywhere you turn, politics suggests itself as a topic of conversation — or as cause for argument.
And for committed Christians today, this can be particularly thorny. But navigating disagreement doesn’t require compromising your Christian witness or obscuring your beliefs.
In fact, it can be an opportunity to grow in love and humility. It can be an opportunity, more importantly, to demonstrate love and humility.
We are called as Christians to an attitude of humility and of service. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4 to “live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received,” to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love,” and to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
But how do we actually keep the peace? What does this look like in practical terms? Is it even possible?
Yes, it is possible. However, it takes work. It takes prudence.
While not all topics of conversation are appropriate for the workplace, some difficult discussions will be impossible to avoid and can often help foster an environment filled with honor, dignity, and respect — where everyone can bring their best, and we produce our best work. The fact is that our coworkers aren’t just robots that operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They’re people. They have complex emotional and intellectual lives, and diverse political and moral commitments.
Our workplaces thrum with activities that are the fruit of these beliefs, and healthy office culture will encourage honest, trusting conversations. So, disagreement is more or less inevitable.
But if we remember that our coworker conflicts are borne of real and important convictions — as well as deeply personal and sometimes traumatic experiences — even the most difficult workplace conversations can build mutual understanding and insight.
That’s why another important component of successfully navigating workplace disagreements is building relationships and building trust within them. It’s easy to fall into an “us” vs. “them” mindset. The other person becomes a symbol of the belief they hold or comes to represent “the opposition.”
So, share a meal with them. Learn who they are. Build the foundations of a working relationship, and your conflicts will become fruitful rather than alienating.
But bracing for discomfort and resolving to remain charitable toward your coworkers isn’t enough. You must also remain curious and humble.
Put aside pride. Put aside the need to “win.” Let go of the need to insist upon your point of view.
Jumping to criticism when others offer their perspective often creates a hostile and low-trust environment. It’s egotistic and incentivizes conformity rather than creativity. The Bible explicitly warns us against this kind of posture.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” we are told in Philippians 2. “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
So, lead with curiosity instead. Ask questions and listen. Lead in humility and gentleness. Foster a workplace environment where honest expression of belief and thought can be met with civility, openness, and respect. Model it for others. And remember that sometimes our perspectives do not always reflect reality.
While some of these suggestions may feel intuitive, it’s easy to fall prey to the attitude that real conviction and real Christian witness must be combative, insistent, and absolute. They do not. As Paul reminds us in Corinthians 13, we can accomplish much, but if those achievements are done without love, they mean nothing. If you want to navigate workplace conflicts successfully, learn to love well.
Rusty Chadwick is the Director of WinShape Teams, an organization dedicated to building strong, healthy, fulfilling teams that change the world around them through team retreats, leader summits, and coaching. He is also the co-author of the book, “Team Work,” and executive producer of the documentary, “For the Team.”