Full disclosure: I sometimes rub people the wrong way… especially in my youth ministry where I volunteer. I think the biggest part of the problem is personality differences. The second biggest part is misunderstandings. Every time (without fail) when somebody finally gets mad enough to confront me about something, it’s an issue based on misperceptions stewing in their minds for a long time without me knowing there was an issue.

Just so you know… this post contains 2 stories of people I care about. The topic is how to deal creatively with issues that will inevitably come up – when your usual methods are not working.

I’m very good with students. They love me… even students I don’t know. It’s pretty funny. We have a large student ministry. Ever so often I hear of students I’ve never even met who are talking about how awesome I am. Stick with me as I make this point.

I realize that’s a very strange thing to write about myself. I don’t do it to be cocky, but to make a point. There’s a disconnect between what the students experience and what some of the staff perceive.

I have a personal motto for dealing with people who don’t like me. It’s “Be hard to hate”. This has worked reasonably well with most people for quite some time. There have been people who get angry with me, but they don’t “stay” angry with me because I try hard to be a good guy to everybody.

There are some people I’ve found I’ll never win over, even with this approach. I’ve learned this after a few years of trying. You might suggest writing them off. I know I for sure can’t please everybody. However, that’s just not my style.

Lately for the ones who can’t be swayed, I’ve started adding an element to “Be hard to hate”. I’ve started giving them opportunities to respond positively to me. Again, that sounds very self-serving. However, my hypothesis is if I create a situation for somebody to respond positively to me, it’ll help me bypass the wall they’ve built up between us. If I get them to respond positively to me enough times, they will eventually begin to think positively about me. That will open the door to the end goal: friendship and partnership in ministry.

Last night I sent such an email to somebody in our ministry. He recently gave a gift to each volunteer to say thanks for another year of service. It was a travel mug with the ministry logo on it. These things are amazing. They keep drinks cool or hot for hours. The person on stage touted how amazing they are. In another part of the meeting, he revealed some changes we would be implementing in the next school year. The changes are actually some changes I’ve been hoping for and even lobbying for (thus part of the reason for the wall built up between us).

Side note: When you make a suggestion to a person who thinks he has to have all the ideas, hold your idea loosely when you present it. The idea may happen eventually as “his idea”. If you are presenting the idea with a pure heart for the good of the ministry, this shouldn’t bother you. In my case, I’m just glad it’s happening.

The email I sent to him was about how amazing the tumblers are. Mine did, in fact, keep my drink warm for several hours. I also gave encouragement about the plans for the new year and even offered a suggestion (not major changes, just food for thought) about them. I sent the email as an opportunity for him to see that I agreed with him mostly, and can affirm something he said is true, that he had some good ideas and I had some minimal input. Some would say this is “kissing up”. When there’s such a barrier between the parties, there is no such thing.

I’ve also not shared constructive criticism. I’ve tried that. Wow! That was not received well at all. As Trump would say, “The wall just got 10 feet higher”. I’ve done my best to not trigger negative responses. I give encouragement when possible. It’s usually not been acknowledged, but I’m working the hypothesis with an understanding it takes time to wear people down.

This morning I got a response to my email. This is great progress. Last time I sent a “let’s bury the hatchet” email, I didn’t even get a response. We’re making progress. My hypothesis is hopefully proving itself true. As I give encouragement to show we are not, in fact, enemies, I’m hoping his heart softens to the fact that the students are correct. I’m a good guy who is making a positive impact in our ministry. I’d love nothing more than for him to see me as the team player I am. I just can’t be the one to tell him that. He needs to come to that realization… because, after all, I’m the knucklehead who drives him crazy.

Another example of giving an opportunity for somebody on staff who doesn’t particularly care for me to give a positive response: I recently attended a youth ministry conference. I paid for the whole thing myself, flights, conference fee, etc. A week before the conference, I got to thinking about this idea of giving people opportunities to respond positively to me.

I sent an email to both this person and another leader on staff who has had problems with me. I told them about my plans to attend the conference. I explained everything was already paid for. Since I had not asked for their help ahead of time, I did not expect them to pay for it. I wrote that if they would like to pay for part of my expenses, that would be great, but I would not be unhappy if they didn’t.

One responded writing he didn’t have the budget. The other responded that he would pay for my meals. I was happy with that. I never turned in my receipts for the meals because that wasn’t the point of me asking. I got what I was after by getting one of them to decide to help me out. Mission accomplished.

My hope in sharing this on the blog is to help you, if you’re in a similar situation, to see the challenge (or the solution to it) from a new perspective. If what you’re doing isn’t working, and you really do genuinely want to resolve the issues and be on good terms, this might be an approach that will help.

Also published on Medium.