Dealing with Difficult People
June 30, 2017
Sooner or later, every healthcare provider comes across difficult patients, colleagues, and staff at work or on the missions field.
Like the withdrawing alcoholic who cusses out and swings at staff. The missionary physician who belittles less experienced team members. The surly dental patient who repeatedly demands the one o’clock appointment yet never expresses thanks.
People like this can get under your skin, wear you down and steal your joy. (Who comes to mind for you?)
Thankfully, ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:9), so the Bible has plenty to say about how you can interact with the challenging people God brings your way.
God At Work Through Difficult People
‘When patients are non-compliant, I just praise God because I know He’s at work in my life.’ Said no one ever, right?
But maybe we should.
Listen to James: 'Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.' (1:2-3) When annoying patients and colleagues threaten to ruin our day, God is making us firm and unwavering in ways that good times could never produce.
Truly trusting that God is at work in even our most difficult interactions is the foundation to handling them well.
5 Practical Ways You Can Handle Difficult Patients, Colleagues & Staff
Building on that foundation, here are five practical ways you can respond to the difficult people in your calling as a healthcare professional. Even if they never change. These suggestions are taken from Paul’s advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
- Don’t be quarrelsome. ‘And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome…’ When someone is being difficult, it’s far better to not step in the ring with them.
- Be kind. But Paul isn’t telling us to merely avoid quarrels and passively tolerate the difficult person. (Darn it.) Instead, according to the ESV Study Bible notes (see Galatians 5:22), God wants us to show ‘goodness, generosity, and sympathy toward others’.
- Be ready to teach and correct gently. God calls healthcare providers ‘to be able to teach’ and ‘correct [their] opponents with gentleness’. These verses call professionals to discern what is wise to teach in this particular moment, and, to challenge difficult people graciously.
- Patiently endure evil. Not one to be politically correct or popular, Paul also calls professionals to ‘patiently endure evil’. You can be honest about the poor treatment (‘evil’) you’re facing, yet also persevere under it as God sustains you.
- Let God be God. For type-A healthcare professionals, Paul’s closing is hard but freeing. ‘God may perhaps grant [the difficult person] repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses’. While directed at people who don’t know Christ, it has application to difficult people who already do, too. When we truly grasp that change is always and ultimately God’s work, we back off and wait expectantly for him to work.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to remember that often we are the difficult person in someone else’s life. So difficult that our Savior had to - albeit joyfully - leave heaven and die on a cross on our behalf.
Wherever we may find ourselves in his world, may God give us grace to be refined by the difficult people he brings our way.
Questions for reflection:
- Name 1-2 difficult people in your life.
- Among Paul’s advice above, where are you strongest? Weakest?
- How will you practically implement part of Paul’s advice as you interact with the person(s) you identified above?