I am told that in 1996, when the district superintendent met with the church staff parish relations committee to tell them that I would be their new pastor, she told them that the new pastor had an earring. Apparently one of the members of the committee had a fit and threatened to leave if the church allowed their pastor to have an earring. One of the saints of the church turned and said in a deadpan manner, “Well, we’ll miss you.“
There’s a reason you don’t negotiate with terrorists.
When someone threatens drastic action if they don’t get their way, whether it is in a family, church or organization, be careful how you respond. If you meet their demands, you will only encourage more ultimatums in the future.
This makes sense intellectually but is hard to do emotionally. We want to keep the peace. We want everybody to get along. But when people act up and make threats, they’re actually making their own well-being dependent on holding others hostage. That’s a no-win situation.
The only way you can respond to these kinds of threats is to be a non-anxious presence. Don’t argue. Don’t agree. Remain calm. There is a chance that by doing this the other may come to their senses. There’s also a chance that they may leave.
There are many sports teams and corporations that have found that they get better when they let a prima donna leave. It doesn’t matter that the person is highly intelligent, highly productive or highly talented if their behavior has caused more problems than they are worth.
I know of numerous situations in the church where the pastor remained a non-anxious presence, and the person causing a problem followed through with their threat. Whether it was resigning from a position or leaving the church altogether, suddenly healthy leaders felt free to stand up and take charge. It’s addition by subtraction.
It doesn’t always work, but if you are able to remain a non-anxious presence, then you give the other person a chance to work out their own issues. The key is to remain non-anxious AND stay emotionally present.
Of course, there are no guarantees. What IS guaranteed is that if you argue or try to convince them that you’re right and they’re wrong, or if you just give in, they will never have to come to their senses. Arguing or giving in enables others to avoid dealing with their own issues.
In leadership situations, the stakes may feel high, as well. That talented employee or that highly involved church leader may seem essential. But ask yourself, how much energy do they suck out of the system because of their inability to deal with their own issues in a healthy way? How much time does it take you or others to keep them pacified? If the answer to the question is A LOT, then it’s time to think addition by subtraction.
The beauty of that saint’s response in the staff parish meeting is it is the epitome of a non-anxious presence. “We’ll miss you,” is emotionally present. It says we care about you. But it also says, “It’s your choice to leave. If you do, we’ll miss you, but it’s your problem, not ours.”
We can’t change the behavior of others. Giving in to threats only encourages similar behavior in the future. You can change your own behavior. You can stop giving in. You can stay connected in a non-anxious way. You can calmly and politely give back to others the responsibility for their own anxiety. Either they’ll get it together or they’ll leave. Either way, it’s addition by subtraction.