I wish I had the kind of discernment that comes easily in hindsight. I would’ve seen the signs of his instability and turncoat tendencies. I would’ve realized her penchant for using people for the sake of the bottom line.
I walked into these business relationships eyes wide open and expectant—trusting, even. I spent many hours sharing my vision and passion, hoping for a mutually beneficial working relationship. But three quarters of the way through, I realized something wasn’t right. Painful as it was, I had to walk away from both professional relationships. And it wasn’t pretty.
Here are five things I learned.
- Let it go. I never understood the passages where disciples shook the dust off their feet, or the fact that Jesus instructed them to do so, until I experienced a particularly difficult workaday experience. Sometimes you just need to shake the pain away in order to move on to a new place. Jesus instructed in Matthew 10:14 that “whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” It’s a symbolic letting go.
- Move on. I love the juxtaposition of Acts 13:51 with verse 52, from dust to joy. “But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Could it be that we should live this contrast? To shake painful working experiences, yet choose to joyfully venture forth in the aftermath? This reminds me of my favorite Oswald Chambers quote: “Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ, and go out into the irresistible future with him.”
- Don’t stop taking risks. Be discerning the next time, but don’t let caution immobilize your ability to take a risk in a new business relationship. I’ve been gun-shy after my experience, and I’m less likely to trust initially. While that’s good in terms of taking my time or finding out about a colleague through careful research, it’s not good to expect someone to be underhanded. The hallmark of a great marriage is whether a spouse assumes positive intent, meaning he/she assigns a good motive to a spouse instead of always thinking the worst. It’s the same in business relationships. If we’re constantly assuming negative intent, we’ll never engage with new colleagues.
- Choose to forgive. Pray that God will use this pain in your life for good, but also pray for God’s favor to rest upon your perceived “enemy.” Trust in God’s sovereignty enough to know that God sees the entire situation fairly and will do what is best. In that realization, forgive your colleague. (If your colleague is doing illegal or unethical things, seek wise counsel as to how you should or shouldn’t proceed.)
- Keep your words few. There were so many words I wanted to say, so many I wanted to declare to the world. Thankfully, I vented to very close advisors, so I didn’t need to mar the reputation of my colleague in public. I’m not saying never share your negative experience, but pray about how, when, and where it would be appropriate to caution others.
I wish I could guarantee you’ll never run into troublesome colleagues (or that you’ll never become one!), but I can say I’ve learned a lot in the process. Everything in this life is part of a grand learning curve. Every interaction, even negative ones, can hone and refine us as leaders.