Dealing with Difficult People – Part 4

Over the past three weeks, we’ve looked at how to deal with some difficult folks. Unfortunately, even church people can become difficult to work with, but with a little wisdom and a lot of courage, we can handle the situations these individuals create and even help them grow in ways that benefit all of their relationships.

Today, let’s look at the “Sherman Tank.”

Named after the great military beast used by Allied forces in World War II, the Sherman Tank is the guy that runs over people to get his way. He intimidates, acts in forceful ways, and often wins the day simply because people are afraid to cross him. Like his rolling military counterpart, this individual confronts opposition directly. He slows down for nothing and tends to not care about the damage or the scene his actions can make.

Now first, let me say that this isn’t just a guy thing. Many churches are controlled by female versions of this difficult person, so when I say “he” or “this guy,” you can consider the idea gender neutral. And that’s about the only thing that’s neutral about the Sherman Tank.

This individual is one who will demand his way in the annual business meeting, the Sunday school class or the church hallway. It’s “my way or the highway” with him. And, over time people have usually found it easier not to cross him, especially in the serene setting of the local church. He wins arguments because he’s determined not to lose them and pastors usually have to be in place for more than five years, before they have gained the influence to even slow him down.

How do you deal with this personality?

1. First, realize that these individuals typically grow from one of two scenarios–either they are accustomed to getting their way in life or they are frustrated by never getting their way. They may be take charge folks on the job and at home, so it’s just natural to act the same way at church, or they may see church as the one place they can finally rule. Knowing which of these is true will help you better understand your challenge.

2. Guide them into group decisions. Respond to them with statements like, “Well, that’s something the deacons will decide” or “we’re going to make that decision as a group.” These individuals must be taught to respect with input of others. Don’t just blurt out, “That’s not your decision!” Instead, find a softer way to communicate that idea by pointing out the other sources of input we will need to gain.

As a pastor, you need to regularly reinforce the healthy rules that guide your leadership team. For example, I started every new year by explaining to our deacons how we operate. I told them that no deacon has any individual authority, that there are never “meetings before the meeting” where a few of us decide what we all will do. All deacon authority is team authority. We act together in all matters. We discuss issues openly and then we make decisions together. This emphasis will help you stop a Sherman Tank before he gets started.

Also, you may need to encourage your other leaders to speak in meetings, if you have a Sherman Tank that dominates. Just turn to another leader and say, “So, Bill, we’ve heard from Jim. Let’s hear what you’re thinking.” Then ask Steve and Janice and everyone else in the room to offer their thoughts. Don’t ask them to react to what Bill said–ask them what they think.

3. As we said with the “Volcano,” don’t meet them on their terms. Don’t try to intimidate or overpower the Sherman Tank. Instead, deal with them in a matter-of-fact kind of way. Speak directly, but calmly to them. Tell them the truth. Often these individuals are straight talkers so talk straight with them.

4. Don’t apologize for the truth. Simply say, “Jack, we’re going to make that decision as a team, and I’ll need you to support that.” No sorries, just truth.

5. At some point–once you have made good effort to engage the Sherman Tank into group effort–you may have to have a “heart-to-heart” chat, to help this individual understand their role in the group. Some folks don’t have much experience with being leaders, so hopefully your efforts at the steps above won’t make a personal pow-wow necessary. But if your Sherman Tank can’t be slowed down, take another leader with you and explain the conduct you’ll be needing if they wish to remain in leadership.

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