a lesson in humility. and a reminder.

Dr. Doofenshmirtz might call the first part of this post my “backstory.”

~ I’m a firstborn and an ISTP (67%) / ISTJ (33%) who’s worked with IT personnel (mostly guys) for decades. My instinctive approach is always content over context. Logic over feelings. I’d say that about 90% of the time, I have a male gender communication style; Report talk over rapport talk. I read instruction books and follow procedures – unless of course, the reasoning behind the procedures isn’t logical, which stems from my content over context approach.

~ Pragmatic is my favorite word. The definition that most resonates with me is:

“focused on needs and results, rather than with ideas or theories”

~ I’m a trainer. I’m always learning and I sincerely believe I can learn from everyone, whether I benchmark successes or analyze failures – including my own. As an educator, I have the opportunity and responsibility to share what I’ve learned. Theoretically, the people with whom I share will make more informed decisions, increase efficiency and generally be better as a result of the knowing.

~ As a consultant, I’ve become accustomed to collaborative work groups made up of people who are task oriented and focused on problem solving.

~ Since 1994, I’ve trained and consulted for and with clients ranging from corporation presidents to managing partners to firm administrators to executive support staff to entry level support staff to volunteers. I interact with all of my clients showing the same level of respect, regardless of the formal or informal hierarchical structure of an organization.

That’s my backstory in a nutshell.

So, given all that is me, I found myself in unfamiliar territory when someone recently told me that I had overstepped a boundary.

A little over a year ago, I was working an event and just before the program officially began, this particular person gave some opening instructions. A particular part of the instructions was incorrect.

My thought process was:
1. 300+ people were just given incorrect instructions about the event.
2. The event hasn’t started yet.

So, the firstborn, ISTP/J, problem-solving educator in me gave this person the correct information.
The instructions were restated accurately.
The program began.

But I had overstepped a boundary. And for over a year, I had no idea.

Now that this had been shared with me, I could have gotten swept up into a circular debate about whether the 300+ people needed or deserved to know the correct information before the event began. But I firmly believe the Holy Spirit stopped me from that pointless and selfish attempt to be “right” and redirected my attention to the more important issue, past the factual actions which took place and instead to the person who identified a boundary where I did not.

If God was telling me that the boundary had nothing to do with the accuracy or inaccuracy of information shared, what was the implication of my crossing it?

This person felt disrespected by me. It’s possible I embarrassed them.

It was a humble reminder that my education and experience don’t automatically translate to success in my personal interactions. I’ve got a degree in Organizational Communication. I’ve taught and coached communication theory and its application for decades. I had been involved with this organization for over a decade. I was experienced and familiar with its culture and hierarchy of authority. Yet it didn’t even occur to me that correcting this person might be at odds with the norm. Looking back now, through their perspective, within the context of the organizational culture, I can see it clearly.


Pride and HumilityI’ve been in identical and similar events, in other venues, with different groups of people – in different cultural contexts – and the kind of interaction I’ve described has never been a big deal, even in cases when the person corrected has been upper level management or an owner of a company. In my own personal experience, the person corrected – myself included – has casually tossed back a kind of “thanks for having my back” response and has continued without skipping a beat.

“In my own personal experience…”

That’s what makes communication so difficult. It’s not one-size-fits all.

Although I was familiar with both the culture of this particular organization and the expectation of this particular individual, I drifted into my communication comfort zone. I assumed the situation was similar to the others in which I navigate.

From that assumption, came the perceived disrespect.

And the humbling reminder to actually USE my communication skills.

UPDATE: Someone asked in a comment what I SHOULD have done instead. Here’s my answer:

The person who told me I had crossed a boundary actually specifically stated what they would have preferred:
(1) to be told the correct information after the event,
(2) in private,
(3) and to be told by the person who organized the event (not me) so that,
(4) in future events, they would relay the information to the attendees correctly.

I acted instinctively, not intentionally. Although it goes against all that is pragmatic in me, I could have – should have – allowed the incorrect information to go uncorrected. It would have resulted in decreased participation in the event, which would have disappointed a number of people who had expected to be able to participate and it would have made the event less memorable. Not a tragedy, just not an optimal experience for those of the 300+ who were able to actively engaged because they had been given accurate instructions.

All that said, in full disclosure, just one month after this conversation, my husband and I attended a large meeting at another venue and while the organization’s founder and president was addressing the audience, he misstated some information. Immediately, he was interrupted from the back of the room and corrected. His response was “Thank you for that correction.” And I leaned over to FirstHusband and whispered, “And THAT’S how it’s done.”

say what you mean, but don’t be mean when you say it.

I’ve been saying that for years. To my kids, to students and to myself, whenever the situation calls for it. It’s one of my idioms.

Ephesians 429This afternoon, I read an article about a controversial subject in which the writer gave the distinct impression that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is ignorant.

Not ignorant in an uninformed or misguided way. There was no attempt to inform or guide. The writer declared “palpable and inescapable love” for God and their neighbor, but as I read, I found myself thinking of the word contempt, not love.

The examples were taken to an extreme, seemingly in an effort to evidence the stupidity and expressions of hate by anyone who believes differently.

For the purposes of this post, the issue itself is irrelevant. I personally didn’t identify with either side of the specific issue being written about. The idea that no other (more complicated) possibilities of thought or action exist is implausible.

Issues under debate are not simple. If they were simple, there wouldn’t be so much debate.

Click Here to Read the Full Post >>>

Jesus said turn the other cheek. He didn’t say I had to stand within smack radius.

“so, have you spoken to them about their behavior?”

That was the question I was asked after publishing my post entitled “you see the big hat too . . . right?

(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “passive-aggressive narcissist. boundaries, distance & prayer. attempted normal relationship. failed. back to boundaries, distance & prayer.”)

Back to the question – Have I spoken to this person about their behavior?

The person asking me the question is someone I respect. They deserve an answer with a reason. So here goes.

As Christians, we tend to think God wants us to reek of Ephesians 4 and live in “Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ.” My concern, the reason I’m still writing about my response to passive-aggressive behavior, is that some Christians interpret “unity in Christ” to mean we should get along with everybody God has placed and/or allowed in our lives. Some Christians believe that “unity in Christ” means that anger is a sin and most importantly, that we should strive to resolve differences when we encounter conflict.

Have I spoken to this person about their behavior? It’s a reasonable question – from a reasonable person. And therein lies the problem. The assumption we want to make is that everyone is, at least for a few minutes of every day, reasonable.

What a beautiful theory.

In reality, it’s more like this:

(oh, chill out. It’s just a cartoon. God loves jerks too.)

To answer the question, Yes. I tried confrontation. I was a communication major. I have a conflict resolution model memorized and am ready to use it at a moment’s notice. So, yes. I did speak with them about their behavior – Before I figured out their standard MO (with everyone, not just me) was passive-aggressive behavior. Specific behaviors were openly addressed and were discontinued, at least temporarily, only to be replaced with a different manifestation of the same root issue. See, passive-aggressive behavior is like a flu strain. It subtly morphs, but is never eradicated. Since the behaviors never stop, the need for attention never ends.

I have years of experience with narcissism and its key characteristic – passive-aggressive behavior. I spent months saturated in research on it. Once I recognized it in this person, I knew exactly what to do. Over and over and over again, the books and documentation suggest that boundaries and distance are the only long lasting solution.

really. I’m not just making this stuff up to avoid confrontation. Remember, I tried confrontation. Confrontation produced temporary results:

“Realize that the narcissist may agree to change the dynamics of the relationship for a short time, to get you off his back,” but will usually revert to what he or she considers “normal.” In the end, the only healthy way to live with a narcissist is to become more of “your own person” and to create a space between you and the narcissist from which you both can live . . .

Minimize direct confrontation with the narcissist’s unhealthy behavior. Most narcissists are simply unable to receive criticism, even if it is meant constructively and spoken in a soft and respectful manner . . .

Maintain good personal boundaries between you and the narcissist. In response to your setting a boundary, the narcissist may attempt to rewrite history or even try to convince you that what you thought (or saw) just happened didn’t, and thus, there is no need for setting a boundary in the first place. Do not back down. . . ” (emphasis added)

(Understanding Narcissism, Paul M. Floyd, M.Div., J.D. and Bruce Narramore, Ph.D.)

My recent problem stemmed from the fact that I intentionally made the decision to take down the boundaries I had set and I attempted to bridge the distance I had established. (To find out WHY I would do such a thing, CLICK HERE to read my post Dear PinkGirl: don’t copy me.

(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “a friend witnessed a passive-aggressive attack that didn’t bother me, but upset her. I explored the possibility that my boundaries were not God’s will.”)

Someone I respected – also a Christian and a reasonable person – witnessed a passive-aggressive attack. Because I had mental and emotional boundaries firmly in place, I bounced back like a quarter on a tightly made bed. My friend, however, was surprised and upset by this person’s behavior. It was new to them and seemed out of character. From my perspective, the behavior was fairly typical. But out of respect for my friend, because it upset her, I decided to prayerfully consider whether I was ignoring any promptings from the Holy Spirit to reach out to the narcissist God was allowing in my life.

Armed with daily prayer and all the research on narcissism and passive-aggressive behavior I could devour, I spent the last few weeks attempting to engage in a positive interpersonal relationship with this person I had previously (and successfully) blocked out for 2 years.

It depleted me. It sapped my energy and stole my peace. It interfered with my work. I became so discouraged I even stopped eating and exercising. I slowly lost my patience and my ability to respond appropriately and began to resent this person and react with frustration when I witnessed continued attempts at manipulation, whereas I had previously felt nothing toward them and had been immune to the manipulation for 2 years. I had experienced 2 years of sincere calm indifference when they behaved badly and now? I wanted to smack ’em every time they acted out. That ain’t good. CLICK HERE to read “step away from the puppy” to read what I wrote about that.”

(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “emotional bullies wear puppy suits. wounded puppy suits. feeding the puppy just makes him hungrier and wipes you out.”)

After relentlessly praying about this situation and this person and relentlessly asking God what he would have me do, I’m grateful and confident that Christ isn’t calling me to extend compassion by making myself available for continuous attack. (again, with another backstory – CLICK HERE to read “I’m going to stop being discouraged and be awesome instead. True Story.“)

(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “I can’t be discouraged anymore. It doesn’t work for me. It’s like breathing through a pillow.”)

My favorite verse in Ephesians 4? Verse 26a: “Be angry but do not sin.”

And I’m very grateful to Dr. Paul Meier for his interpretation of scripture:

David’s response to Saul offers a three-step process for us to follow today:
1. Remember that you aren’t the issue! David knew the problem was with Saul, not with himself.
2. Recognize you can’t cure the other person. David couldn’t straighten Saul out. If you want peace of mind, you must realize you cannot change a crazymaker’s internal workings.
3. We can only change ourselves. Instead of responding to Saul in a like manner, David refused to become Saul’s enemy. David supported the king even as he hid from Saul’s vicious attacks.
Crazymakers by Paul Meier M.D.

I’ve gone back to a place of peace through the re-establishment of boundaries, distance and prayer – I literally pray for this person multiple times per week. If anything will change them, it will be God. Because, unlike me, HE can do ANYthing.

CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.

you see the big hat too . . . right?

Ever try to describe the behavior of a passive-aggressive person to someone else?

Inevitably, you come off sounding petty. And a little crazy.

There’s disbelief: “No way. That doesn’t seem like them.”

There’s doubt: “Are you sure? Maybe you misunderstood.”

There’s advice: “You should talk to them about it. They probably have no idea you feel this way.”

And then you think, “maybe I am crazy after all. Maybe I just imagined everything. They seem so normal. So nice.” You look around. “Nobody else has a problem with them. Everybody else thinks they’re nice. There must be something wrong with ME. Maybe I’m tired. or overstressed. oversensitive.”

“Yes, that must be it. This is definitely all in my head. I just need a good night’s sleep. or a day off.”

and then, with the stealth of Eddie Haskel and sweetness of Marie Barone, they strike again.

When you get your bearings, you realize. You weren’t imagining things! You’re not crazy!!! woo hoo!!


That’s not better. It’s just a different kind of bad. and they’re not going to change. You’re not going to change them.

The only thing you can change is your response.

Someone who engages in passive-aggressive behavior is like a woman sitting in the front row at a play, wearing a big ol’ hat. People approach her and politely tell her that her hat is blocking their view of the stage. They make sure not to insult the hat, assuring her it is a beautiful hat, unique and perfect for her. She smiles and thanks them as they walk away, but she doesn’t take the hat off. She just repositions it to a different spot on her head.

It never even occurred to her to take off the hat.

She’s not being mean. In her mind, she’s not doing anything wrong. Nobody actually asked her to take the hat off. They just told her it was in their way, so she moved it. They told her it was a nice hat. So, by leaving it on, everyone still gets to admire it. She’s doing everyone a great service.

If you’re sitting behind her, you have five choices, only one of them good:

1. You can sit there, mumbling and complaining about the rude woman in the front row wearing the big ol’ hat:
“Can you BELIEVE her? WHAT is her problem?”

2. You can address the issue directly and politely ask her to remove her hat.
But you’re too late. Someone has already told her what a nice hat it is. She’ll defensively tell you that other people have told her they like it, implying that you are a schmuck for asking her to take it off. What’s wrong with you? Why would you even say anything bad about her hat? You must not like her. You’ve hurt her feelings. (You can tell because her bottom lip is quivering.) You’re mean. And after you go back to your seat, just as the show starts, when everyone is supposed to turn off their phone, she’ll send you a text message to tell you that she understands that you’re just upset because you don’t have a hat. After the show, she’ll tell everyone who will listen what happened. Then they’ll all know how petty and mean you were.


3. You can walk up to her and snatch the big ol’ hat off of her head yourself.
Don’t do it. It just makes you look crazier. and even meaner than if you asked her to remove the hat.

4. You can give up and leave.
What’s the point of sticking around? You won’t be able to see anything anyway.

5. You can STAY and MOVE to BETTER SEAT.
If you’re smart, you’ll move. You won’t let a big ol’ hat run you off.

And if you’re a Christian, you can pray. That she’ll see her big ol’ hat for what it is – an obstacle to open communication and good relationships. Of course, you should probably also pray that God will bless you with the patience and energy to keep moving to a better seat without letting it get to you. (Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. But He didn’t say we had to stand within smack radius.)

New people will come in and, at first, not paying attention, they’ll fill the empty seats around her. After a while, they’ll notice. “That’s a big hat.” They’ll assume she knows it’s rude to leave the hat on. They’ll assume she’ll take it off. When she doesn’t, they’ll find themselves facing the same five choices you did.

As the new people thin out and the crowd consists of people who’ve been there a while, you’ll notice something. She’s surrounded by empty seats.

But she still looks – and feels – good in the hat. And to her, that’s the most important thing.

(This post is a follow up to Dear PinkGirl: don’t copy me.) CLICK HERE for the backstory.

CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.