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Practical Jokes and the Workplace: Tips for the Victim

9 Jan

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been examining reasons to avoid playing practical jokes both in the workplace and elsewhere. While it may be a good idea for us to avoid engaging in such activities, however, that doesn’t mean that others won’t try to pull us in. So what do you do if you end up the victim of a poorly timed, poorly executed practical joke?

To begin with, recognize that a mean prank may not have had a mean intent – it may just have gone wrong. The timing may have been off or someone failed to think their joke all the way through. Whatever the reason, it’s best to give the benefit of the doubt and show a bit of mercy. After all, which one of us hasn’t done something that sounded good at the time, but was, in retrospect, a terrible idea?

That said, some pranks really are intended to be cruel. Just because you happen to find yourself a victim of such a joke doesn’t mean that you have to stoop to the level of the prankster… or even be embarrassed that they pulled one over on you. Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 5:38-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

We’ve all done some evil things in our lives and, even though you may never have been a bully, you’ve probably intentionally done something at some time knowing that it was going to cause pain to another – and you were very likely forgiven for it (even if it was only God who forgave). We’ve all received mercy at some point (and if we’re honest, multiple points) in our lives, so it’s worth the effort to extend some mercy to others.

Secondly, remember the admonition of Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.” The prank may have hurt and you may have been embarrassed, but the best thing you can do is often nothing. Pranks are usually played with the intention of getting a reaction from the person upon whom they are played – so if you don’t react, the fun will wear off pretty quickly and the prankster will usually move on to his next victim.

Thirdly, learn to laugh at yourself. Sometimes even a nasty joke can be defused if the person it’s played upon is able to see the humor in it, themselves. As human beings, even the most noble and honorable among us sometimes do silly things or act inconsistently with our beliefs. Learning to recognize that and laugh along with others can go a long way towards gaining some credibility for ourselves and rescuing us from feeling endlessly the “victim”.

Finally, take the time to recognize genius. As terrible as the prank may have been, perhaps it really was brilliantly engineered. Sometimes people just want to be noticed… and if they can’t gain that recognition through seemingly ordinary means, they resort to the extraordinary. Go ahead, see what happens if you pay tribute to the genius of the prankster – you may end up turning an enemy into a life-long friend.

 

 

Practical Jokes and the Workplace: Four Points to Consider

2 Jan

Last week in “A Caution”, I shared the story of a practical joke gone wrong… and advised that the best way to execute a prank in the workplace is not to execute one at all. This week, I’ll be explaining that advice in more detail as I share four important things to consider before attempting to play any prank on anyone, anywhere!

1. You can’t control the timing. Everyone knows that when it comes to a sense of humor, timing is everything. While you have control over this factor when zinging someone with a one-liner, more often than not, practical jokes won’t allow you that luxury. For example, at one place where I once worked, a staff member hid a rubber snake in a bin of washers. The intended victim came across the inanimate critter and made the quite reasonable mistake of assuming that it was real. (So far, so good.) Unfortunately, aside from nearly wetting her pants, she also let out a string of expletives that would have made a sailor blush… and did make several customers turn quite rosy. The truth was, thanks to its poor timing, a joke that could have been a real hoot proved an embarrassment both to the staff member who got nailed and to the company.

2. Does this cause property damage. I think all of us have heard about someone super gluing their boss’ gear to his desk or nailing someone’s boots to the floor. While these hijinx are amusing on television, they are often less so in person. Again, there is a timing issue (if your boss is reaching for his pen, it’s likely that he intends to use it), but there is also that little issue of property damage. That antique oak desk won’t look quite the same, even after the super glue has been removed and those boots won’t be quite as weather proof after the nail has been taken out. If your prank has the potential (even the slight potential) to cause permanent harm, don’t pull it. Remember, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12) You’ve worked hard for the things you own don’t want people taking risks with it, so don’t take risks with their property either.

3. What may be funny to others often isn’t funny to the victim. Okay, it’s confession time. I used to be a superb practical joker. I could nail just about anyone given the time and opportunity. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to such visual pranks is that they are often performed at the expense of someone else. One of my least noble moments was when I pulled a miniature nickel out of my pocket and, displaying it to an employee who wasn’t all that bright, moaned about having forgotten to remove my change before I washed my laundry. “It really shrunk it?!” she exclaimed. Of course, everyone laughed. Everyone, that is, except her. In getting a giggle from others, I took advantage of someone who Christ loved enough to die for. Any joke that makes sport of someone, even unintentionally, isn’t worthy of a follower of Christ. All of us were made in the image of God and deserve to be treated as persons of value.

4. Pranks tend to multiply uncontrollably. Maybe you’ve heard of the law of escalation. Basically, the principle is that someone plays a prank, then the person who got nailed with the prank has to get even. While this can sometimes be funny to watch (I once had a coworker who claimed he could outdo me in the realm of practical jokes and the two of us got into an all-out war, each prank becoming more and more outrageous until we discovered that most of the pranks had been played by other staff members who were getting a hoot out of pitting us against one another), they can often degenerate into competitions over who can be the nastiest or most destructive. Don’t wait until the game gets mean to call it quits – don’t start playing to begin with.

While practical jokes can be great source of humor and even serve as a form of stress relief, the negative aspect of such hijinks often outweigh the positive benefits. With that in mind, the best rule of thumb for pranks in the workplace is this: don’t. No amount of fun is worth the risk of damage to people, property, your job, or your reputation.

 

Practical Jokes and the Workplace: A Caution

26 Dec

I couldn’t resist the urge – he was sleeping so soundly, his head resting on a cushion atop the break room couch. His feet were propped carelessly upon the table, leaving his brand new sneakers in full view of anyone who entered the room.

He had spent the last two days boasting about the shoes, telling anyone who would listen how great it was that he no longer had to tie his laces. He could, instead, simply cinch up the single loop on either sneaker and instantly be ready to go – the same effect in half the time.

What was his source of pride had, for many members of the staff, become a source of minor annoyance. Fortunately, it was an annoyance which was about to come to a very timely and humorous end.

I watched him carefully for a moment, listening to him snore as I verified for myself that he really was asleep. Convinced that an earthquake couldn’t wake him, I set to work “cinching up” the sneakers in a new and novel way.

I carefully threaded the zip tie through the loops and pulled it tight, ensuring that his first attempt to move would be a less than successful one. Then, with the silence of a mouse, I slipped from the room. It was a perfect plan, and was perfectly executed.

It wasn’t until later, when a staff member who had been unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity when the zip tie was discovered shared the story with me, that I thought better of my perfect plan. It seems that I had done such a good job tying up the sneakers that my handiwork had gone completely unnoticed… until my victim was fully upright and tried to take his first step. He had nearly done a header into a counter. Aside from eliciting a string of profanity and some unfair accusations against an innocent party, my victim had also managed to hurt himself. Oops.

Practical jokes can be a blast, but if I were given the opportunity to share one word of advice concerning them, it would be this: don’t. For every practical joke that goes right, there are dozens more that go wrong. Even then, your ability to devise and cleverly execute such pranks doesn’t guarantee that they will be appreciated by others.

Next week, we’ll take a look at four very practical reasons to avoid practical jokes… especially in the workplace. For now, however, feel free to share a few of your own experiences in the comment box below!

Developing a Game Plan

19 Dec

Sometimes our workplace situation isn’t fair (or safe), but there isn’t a good way out. The economy, our education, and a number of other factors can end up preventing us from leaving. When this happens, the best approach is to develop a game plan for survival and, when the time is right, departure. Here are a few useful ideas for making due until the time is right:

1. Prayerfully Plan. One of the surest ways to grab hold of hope in a depressing situation is to plan a course for the future. Make a list of things that need to change in order for you to leave, take it to God in prayer, then make a plan for achieving those goals. It may take a while to get there, but each task you accomplish will be one more step towards the positive workplace situation you seek.

2. Ask for Assistance. Sometimes we can’t see the way forward on our own. When this happens, one of the best things we can do is ask others for their guidance and advice. Those impossible to fund educational goals may be at your fingertips and you just don’t know it. The right job may be available, it just isn’t listed. Make good use of your network of friends as well as any community resources which may be available. Remember the words of Proverbs 24:6, “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: And in multitude of counselors there is safety.”

3. Prayerfully Perform. C.S. Lewis once said that, “Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me.” Through prayer, we learn to see people and situations through God’s eyes and from an eternal perspective. Make a list of everyone you work with, of each situation or issue that is causing you stress, and pray through it silently as you work. You will be surprised at how quickly many of the irritations you previously encountered will disappear.

4. Cultivate Community. Work (especially when it’s work we’d rather not be doing) becomes extra stressful when it fills the central spot in your life. So don’t let it. Take time to find people you enjoy being with and things you enjoy doing outside of your job and fit them into your schedule. It’s amazing how much better a day goes when you’re looking forward to time fellowshipping with a great friend after shift or getting some exercise at the local pool.

5. Don’t Despair. There’s an old saying that “when God closes a door, He opens a window”. His plan for our lives often looks quite different from what we want for ourselves… but there is a plan. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” While the verse was written for the benefit of the ancient Israelites, we can be sure that God feels just as passionately about those who follow Him today. He has a plan. And it is one filled with hope!

Quitting Responsibly

12 Dec

As with renegotiating a contract, quitting a job is something to be done with planning and reflection. Here are a few things to consider before handing in your resignation:

1. Do I really have a reason to quit? Knee-jerk reactions aren’t that uncommon, especially in the heat of the moment. Take some time to cool off. Then consider the situation carefully:

a. Is the problem acute or chronic (ongoing)? If it’s momentary, it may be best to let the conflict go. If it’s ongoing, spend some time digging for the root of the problem. It may be an issue which can be easily resolved once it has been uncovered.

b. Is the difficulty with an individual or the company? Some issues are inherent in an organization. Others are inherent in the people who run that organization. It’s rarely a good idea to quit a job just because you aren’t getting along well with a single co-worker. (In fact, you’re likely to encounter similar conflicts at your next workplace.)

c. Is there another less dramatic action I can take? Quitting can be stressful and traumatic – a bit like amputating a limb. That stress escalates in proportion to the level of responsibility an individual holds, i.e., whether your family is depending upon your support. Leaving a job post ought to be a final resort, not an initial one – at least when conflict is the cause of your departure.

2. Am I prepared to leave? This is an important consideration, since more than once, I’ve watched someone walk off a job-site and into a barren job market. You may want out and you may want out now, but that doesn’t mean that simply walking away is a good idea. If you’re going to depart, take the time to ensure that you have something else lined up: another job, further education, or any sort of rationally considered game-plan. Don’t cut off your nose just to spite your face!

3. Am I leaving in a way that glorifies God? While you may be angry and frustrated, simply walking off without giving notice or sabotaging/slacking in your final days will not bring notice to your Savior in a positive way. Make sure your employer knows that you are going… then complete your service with all of the passion and dedication that you would give it if you were serving God, Himself.

All that said, sometimes we really want and need to leave a job, but simply can’t. A bad job market, lack of skill, or any number of other obstacles can get in our way. Next week, we’ll take a look at how to develop a game plan that will help us endure until the situation comes to an end.

Renegotiating the Contract Part II: Practical Tips for a Successful Dialog

5 Dec

Job responsibilities change over time and it isn’t that uncommon to discover that the job you thought we were hired for isn’t the one we’re doing. When this happens, it can be easy to grow discontent with our wages and benefits. Fortunately, there are plenty of things we can do to help smooth the road for a successful contract renegotiation. Here are a few:

1. Take some time for introspection. Before asking for a raise, more vacation, or extra “perks” take a step back and ask yourself whether you’d give those things to you if the situation were reversed. If you’ve been spreading gossip and malcontent, slacking (even just a little), or fudging your time card in order to “get what you deserve”, you can bet that your boss isn’t going to give you what you ask… or perhaps even a moment in which to ask it. If you wouldn’t give a raise to someone like you, you can be reasonably certain that your boss won’t either.

2. Approach your boss with concrete examples, verified numbers, and hard facts. If you’re doing more work than others on the team, have increased responsibilities, or are just performing to a higher level, that’s great. But it won’t mean much to most employers unless you have some solid documentation of that superior performance. Don’t argue that you deserve a raise simply because you feel like you work hard!

3. Choose your timing carefully. If your boss is busy, in a bad mood, or inattentive, this is not the time to approach him with the examples you’ve collected! Be observant and ensure that your employer is in a fair-minded, attentive mood before you ask for your raise.

4. Be respectful. Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I can’t get no respect!” It’s a feeling that most employers can sympathize with. Approach your boss with respect, regardless of how you feel about him or her as a supervisor or as an individual. And don’t forget to maintain that respect throughout the conversation… even if things don’t go your way.

5. Be patient. 2 Timothy 2:24 reminds us that, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged.” Recognize that not everyone sees through our eyes… and that we don’t always have all of the information necessary to make a wise judgment. Understand that today’s “no” can become a “yes” once an employer has had time to reflect. Ask clarifying questions to ensure that you understand your boss’ point of view. And remember that God is in control… even when it comes to inequities in the workplace.

If after a reasonable dialogue with your employer, you still aren’t satisfied that you’re getting a fair deal, you can always quit. But do so responsibly! Nobody ever got anywhere trying to cross a burnt bridge and neither will you. Remember the admonition of Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Never leave an employment situation with angry words or actions and always give notice! Two weeks can seem like an eternity in a bad job, but it’s better than a reputation as an untrustworthy employee! (Just because you tell a potential employer not to contact your last boss, doesn’t mean he won’t.) Do your best to make sure that your words and deed bear out your value as a respectful, reliable member of the team!

 

Renegotiating the Contract Part I

28 Nov

The absence of teamwork and the presence of slackers can lead to some interesting workplace situations. Among them is the distinct injustice of watching others make more for less. Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at a few of the negative ways in which we may be tempted to approach the situation. This week, we’ll take a look at one of the best ways: renegotiating our contract.

Job interviews aren’t just about making a good impression on a future employer. They’re also about that employer making a good impression on you. While it may be tempting to simply sit through the interview answering questions, we should never pass up an opportunity to ask a few, ourselves.

That said, when we’re considering a job, we need to start by examining the job description. Not all companies have a written description for each position, so take notes throughout the interview. Make sure you understand the hours you’ll work, the company’s expectations concerning your availability to work different shifts, the tasks you will be responsible for performing, and what payment you can anticipate in return. (Keep in mind that “payment” isn’t always monetary. Retirement accounts, health benefits, paid vacation, and even the privilege of doing something that you enjoy are all positive benefits that can go with a job. Make sure you consider the whole package before you accept or reject the offer!) If, at the end of the interview, you don’t feel that the exchange is a fair one, don’t take the job. (Or take it with the expectation that it’s only temporary while you find a job that does fit your needs.) But keep in mind that once you’ve accepted a job offer, you’ve committed yourself to fulfil the agreement, regardless of whether any of the other employees do or not.

That said, if you feel that the situation has altered sufficiently since your date of hire, there is no law against asking your boss politely and respectfully if you can revise the terms of your employment. Sometimes a friendly enquiry is all it takes to get a raise, a promotion, or a few extra days off!

If your boss is unreceptive to the proposal, take the time to find out why; listen carefully as he explains his expectations and the reasons behind them. And remember that just as he might not be able to see all of your big picture, you may not be able to see all of his. Business finance and employee scheduling can both be trickier than they appear – just because it looks to you like there should be extra hours for you to work, more available time off, or money for a raise, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is. If you’re particularly fortunate, your boss may even be willing to explain some of the ins and outs to you in order to broaden your own understanding. (You may even catch his attention by taking an understanding interest in why things play out the way they do in your company!)

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few tips for contract renegotiation, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

Enforced Pressure: Higher Stakes

17 Oct

While some peer pressure is the result of others seeking validation for their preferences and lifestyle choices, at other times, it can arise from more villainous motives. Throughout our lives, we repeatedly encounter those whose goal is to intentionally harass us into doing something that they know we believe to be wrong.

Whether it’s fudging a little on your time card (after all, five minutes now and then doesn’t really matter), taking home those nifty company pens (the store name is on them because they want it spread around), or telling a few off-color stories, the pressure to “conform” can be intense. If you want to counter this type of “enforced pressure” without compromising your faith, you must determine Who you serve before the pressure is on.

Why am I mentioning this principle for a second time? Quite simply because it’s an important one. I used to get a big laugh out of customers who would walk down an aisle, see me stocking shelves in my red company vest and ask, “Do you work here?” Mentally, I always found myself thinking, “No, I just randomly stock shelves wherever I shop,” or better yet, “No, this is just a hobby. I have uniforms for every store in town.” Of course I worked there! The very fact that I was stocking the store’s shelves made it (or should have made it) obvious.

Unfortunately, for many Christians, what seems glaringly obvious in a workplace situation isn’t always so clear in a spiritual one. So let me put it simply: as Christians, God is our Boss; We don’t stock the Devil’s shelves. We don’t give into pressure to do the wrong things just because it feels good or makes us fit in any more than we would provide free labor at Walmart while working for Shopko. To do so just doesn’t make sense.

The truth is that most people who exert this type of “enforced” peer pressure don’t do it because they want us to fit in. They do it because they want us to trip up. The Bible tells us in John 3:20 that “They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished.” Christians, especially those committed to following Christ in their daily lives, are lights in the darkness. This will likely make at least a few of our co-workers uncomfortable. Since they can’t stay away from us, some of them will intentionally try to justify their point of view by invalidating ours. In proving our hypocrisy, they dim the very light which exposes theirs.

By determining Who we serve beforehand (and steeling ourselves to stand firm), we’re heading this tactic off at the pass. When the difficult situations arise, there will be no question in our minds about the right thing to do… and we’ll know exactly where to get the strength to do it! We must kneel in prayer. Ask God for help. Then stand our ground.

Enforced Pressure: They Really Do Want Me to Be Like Them!

10 Oct

Peer pressure isn’t limited to our own, internal recognition that we don’t quite fit. Sometimes, others really are trying to force us to conform. While this type of pressure doesn’t always take the form of outright bullying, the choices it sets before us and the scars it leaves behind can be just as uncomfortable. Like any good soldier, if we want to stand firm, we need to be ready with a well thought out plan of defense.

Situations involving “enforced” peer pressure can’t be approached in the same way as “perceived pressure”. We do have control over ourselves and whether we become “big picture” thinkers, secure in our own identity. We don’t have control over how others view us or our life choices. Despite our best efforts to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18), not everyone will be comfortable with who we are and what we represent. When that happens, some people will inevitably respond by trying to transform us into something we are not.

Our beliefs, however, aren’t the only reason that we may encounter peer pressure. Indeed, many of the individuals who are guilty of exerting peer pressure aren’t nearly as interested in forcing others to conform as they are in gathering adoring followers for themselves. On occasion, the people who fall into this category are megalomaniacs on an ego trip. More frequently, however, they are individuals who are seeking to build up their own low self-image. If others adore them, then perhaps, they will also come to love themselves.

It should come as no surprise that this type of enforced pressure is actually the easiest to counter. People who fall into this category are in need of an ego boost. We just happen to be available to potentially satisfy that need – validating their attitudes and lifestyle through imitation. In such cases, rather than simply surrendering to the pressure or (as we’re more inclined to do) pushing back, we need to be beacons of love. We serve a God who delights in diversity… and so should we.

In living this life of obedience, it’s important to recognize that “different” doesn’t always equal “bad” or “wrong”. Just because I listen to the morning news and you watch the evening news doesn’t mean that either of us must make a judgment about which way is better or best. Our differing habits don’t reflect on our mental abilities or our worth as human beings. They are merely differences and they add color to life.

Steer clear of phrases that appear to degrade choices that differ from your own. And when you can legitimately avoid making a choice about what is better or best, do! A friend of mine once asked, “Why do I have to have a favorite? Why can’t I like them all?” His question is a valid one. A lot of heartache could be saved if we placed more emphasis on the beauty of variety than upon making judgments about its quality.

 That doesn’t mean, of course, that we accept every difference, viewpoint, or lifestyle choice as valid. (There are some differences which really do matter.) But it does mean that we accept the individuals who hold those differing viewpoints. As those around us grow to recognize the acceptance we offer, the peer pressure they exert upon us will often subside. (To be continued…)

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part IV

3 Oct

Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the dangers of “perceived peer pressure”. We’ve spent some time discussing why we sometimes feel pressured to conform, even when no actual pressure exists. We’ve talked about the origins of this internal conflict and examined the importance of accepting ourselves for who we are.

All that said, there is another form of “perceived pressure” which most of us encounter. This variety, unlike that quiet gnawing sense that we’re different (and thus, somehow unacceptable), is hidden in the vocal, but not necessarily ill-intended, encouragement of others.

Consider the following illustration: one year, while discussing my upcoming birthday with my coworkers, one of them suggested that I should go “all out” – go to a bar, get drunk, and pick up a guy for the night. Obviously, the suggestion was offensive to my way of thinking and I might easily have seen this particular employee as “pressuring” me to reject my beliefs. Yet that was the farthest thing from his mind. Unlike those who egg us on, lying in wait to catch us in sin, my friend genuinely believed that such behavior did make for a good time… and he earnestly wanted me to have some fun.

This is where our ability to recognize the difference between ill-informed suggestions and actual pressure is important. In this particular case, I laughed, thanked him for his wishes, and told him about my other plans. While this might seem like glossing over the issue, it led to a cemented relationship in which I was later able to present the Gospel message. Why? Because he realized that I wasn’t going to condemn him for his own ideas of right and wrong or, worse yet, try to pressure him into accepting mine.

This stance can be difficult for many believers simply because we’ve been raised in a church culture which teaches that any failure to point out sin is a sin in and of itself. Yet nowhere does Scripture actually teach this concept. Instead, we are to be careful about when, where, and how we point out the faults of others. Matthew 7:1-6 warns us, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

The truth is that most of the people we encounter (Christians or non-Christians) are already aware of their sinfulness. We as Christians, then, are charged not with beating them over the head with the evil they’ve done (or to judge them as though we are somehow better than they are). Instead, we are to present them with a living, working image of the Christ who died to save them from the penalty of that sin.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t call sin “sin,” but it does mean that we don’t engage in the same sort of “enforced pressure” tactics used by the Enemy. Changes in behavior don’t necessarily equal a change of heart. Only if the change begins with Jesus will there ever be any real change at all.

 

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