ORKING WITH people with whom one disagrees is not only common, it is the natural state of the world. So don’t freak out. You’ve probably been doing it already with some success. Or not.
In the real world—and in the real job market—it is rare to find oneself entirely in agreement with every coworker and superior. (I am not addressing matters of dogma or Truths of our Faith. Those are beyond discussion.) One must deal with disagreement to survive, and ultimately thrive. Different roles by necessity require dissimilar perspectives. As a result, this produces conflicting and sometimes competing priorities. E.g., A musician will likely consider keeping the organ in tune a greater budgetary priority than the Building Manager will. Or the pastor has to worry about fundraising and building maintenance, as well as the salvation of souls. With the weight of a parish on his shoulders, he might not be thinking at this moment about the most amazing organ postlude ever.
This is not to make light of anyone’s jobs. We are all called to serve, and there’s good reason we are laser-focused on our areas of expertise. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12
NTERESTINGLY, ONE’S ABILITY to work effectively with someone else does not rely very much at all on how much one agrees with that other person. In thirty years of experience in the Church, I have found that I can work quite well with people with whom I disagree, and I cannot work with some people with whom I have a great deal in common, such as our philosophy or taste in music, etc. Why is this?
There are a few factors, but I have found that it comes down to three things:
1 • Mutual respect especially for each other’s professional (or volunteer) roles. While ultimately respect is earned, to give respect should be the default and automatic approach in a new working relationship. In fact, this is a beautiful way to live life.
2 • There is a willingness to serve the greater good, a shared motivation.
3 • Each person does not take personal offense of a disagreement. This is challenging, but key. To do so is a common mistake and sometimes leads to rather juvenile behavior. It’s hard to do when we are passionate. Just don’t do it. You’ll thank yourself later! Be open that you might learn something—even if from an underling—and as a result get better at your job.
There are also helpful benefits when working out disagreements. Many who have worked with me or under my direction do not prefer or agree with all my decisions. Their willingness has produced this very interesting side effect: my respect for them increases exponentially because I know they are not thrilled with what I’ve asked. Perhaps they offered a rebuttal, but worked with me cheerfully. Then another thing happens. They have greater influence, and our work becomes increasingly collaborative. Then, maybe I can learn something from them if I’m smart enough to listen.
Likewise, those who overstep professional boundaries do themselves no favors. Not because of recrimination, but simply because of its lack of mutuality. This produces ill-will among negative side-effects. Don’t do this either. Your colleagues will thank you for deferring to their area of expertise.
HEN THERE IS ANOTHER another fascinating development. There are people with whom one may agree with on a number of matters, but one cannot work with easily. Why? With some, the slightest disagreement causes strife. Concur on 97% of all matters, but there’s still a problem? This is because one or both parties fixate on the disputed 3%. This is sadly wasteful.
To survive in serving the Church and to survive a tough job market, one must consider carefully these elements, but especially this: Remember, that being “in-synch” with someone actually is a result of mutual work and effort. It doesn’t happen automatically, and no one is entitled to it. If people work well together, it’s because they worked very hard to that end.
Also one must have the humility to understand that disagreements often yield a greater good, sometimes unseen by the individuals in conflict. Wisely step back and observe this if you can. When colleagues work hard towards the greater good and establish trust, don’t take such working relationships for granted. It’s pretty amazing.