This is Part 2 of a series of 3 posts about witnessing at work. In Part 1 we introduced the general topic, saw that witnessing can be divided into two types – active and passive – and started considering passive witnessing. In this part we will look at some specific aspects of passive witnessing. In Part 3 we will consider active witnessing.
If you have done something wrong, apologise for it as soon as you can. Don’t try to cover up or make excuses if you are at fault – just admit it and say a simple ‘sorry’. This can be a very striking witness in a business or workplace environment where people will often look for someone else to blame or make excuses for their behaviour or actions. If we’re honest, we are usually tempted to make excuses if we find we are in a situation where we should apologise. But this would not be the right way to act – we are told many times in the Bible to ‘confess our sins’ (to God) and given examples of people doing so – both to God and to men.
Be completely honest
In a personal sense, this ties in with the above idea of always saying ‘sorry’ and facing up to unpleasant truths in your workplace. The Biblical command to be honest is clear even though honesty is not always comfortable when we know we are in the wrong (think of Adam in the Garden of Eden). God’s view of honesty is quite different to man’s view of it and in your workplace you may be asked to do or say something or represent a situation in a way which you know is not entirely truthful. This can be extremely difficult, particularly as such requests usually come from someone in a more senior position then yourself, who is concerned about the ‘look’ of the business or the data they are to present and would like to be able to give a slightly different picture to the real one. You will have to decide whether what you are being asked to do is definitely dishonest and if it is, politely and calmly explain that you are not prepared to tell lies or conceal the truth when asked directly about it.
Avoid negative comments about others
There is nearly always someone in a workplace who people struggle to get on with. Perhaps someone is lazy, has an abrasive manner, or chatters constantly. People around them quickly notice and begin to make snide remarks. Don’t let yourself get drawn into this. No matter how irritating you find the person, pray for a loving spirit toward them. Think of some positives about that person and focus on them when you are tempted to be irritated or make a comment. If applicable, try to understand why that person behaves as they do – abrasive or garrulous people are often acting in that way because of secret hurt or loneliness. This may help you to feel compassion for them.
Avoid office gossip
This is similar to the point above, as most office gossip is negative or at least speculative in nature. People love a scandal, and to relate snippets of information they have gathered from various sources. Unfortunately in many workplaces, there is plenty for people to gossip about. People may go out drinking together each weekend and come back to work to relate inappropriate behaviours they have witnessed. The Bible speaks out clearly against gossip (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 20:19; 1 Timothy 5:13); it is a behaviour we should not be participating in, no matter how tempting (and it can be pretty tempting).
Try not to complain
Again, in workplaces there is often a spirit of unrest and complaint. Rates of pay and senior management policies or directives are frequently the subjects of complaint. It can be very easy to join in with this, particularly if the complaints seem justified. However, the Bible is clear that a spirit of complaint is sinful (think of the example of Israel in the wilderness) and tells us to ‘be content with such things as ye have’ (Hebrews 13:5), in particular to be content with your wages (Luke 3:14). If you think you have a genuine reason to be unhappy with a workplace condition or the amount you are paid, and there are laws in this country to protect us from being taken advantage of, then the right place to raise this is through appropriate channels in your workplace, which your immediate colleagues don’t need to know about.
Do all of your work thoroughly
Even the best of jobs have aspects which no one enjoys doing and there are always corners to be cut, things that no one will know about if you don’t do properly or on time. However, as Christians, we are commanded that whatever we do, we should do it unto the Lord (Colossians 3:22-24), which means that we should do all aspects of our jobs to the best of our ability, on time and in a cheerful manner.
Avoid swearing and extreme language
In my experience, this is quickly noticed by colleagues. In more than one workplace, people have commented on the fact that I don’t swear or blaspheme. Some colleagues have apologised after swearing in front of me without me ever having said anything to them on the subject. I have found that such occasions can be a useful opening to a conversation – I have been able to explain to colleagues that I find blasphemy more offensive than swearing as it takes the name of my God in vain.
Avoid sinful conversation topics and jokes
This is an extremely difficult task. Some workplaces are by their nature more prone to such conversations and jokes then others but there will be an element of this in all workplaces. Sadly most of us are able to see the funny side of jokes which are lewd, unkind or otherwise inappropriate and inhibiting laughter can be very difficult. Some of you may also find it very easy to think of quips which would make your colleagues laugh but which are unkind or explicit in nature. James speaks in his epistle about how difficult the tongue is for us to rule (James 3:5-8) and how much trouble it can get us into. I have found that prayer is the most effective weapon to use in the fight against the things which slip out before we have had time to think about whether they are God-honouring or not. The Psalmist prays ‘Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips’ (Psalm 141:3), this is a good prayer for us all to use. It is not easy to purposely stay out of a conversation without appearing aloof and you may draw attention from your colleagues who could be interested to know what you find distasteful about the subject. Pray that you will be ready to politely explain that you are not comfortable with the topic and to give your reasons.