Category: Issues

Why Cynicism is Good for Your Workplace

Guest Post: Dr. Paul White, co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace

This may seem to be a bit of an “about face” for me – given my previous writing on how cynicism is a result of “bad” employee recognition or when employees question the authenticity of appreciation communicated. But it occurred to me that, really, cynicism can be a positive influence in our workplaces. How?

1) When people are cynical, they are giving us honest feedback about how they really feel. When was the last time that you heard a cynical remark from a colleague and you accused them of not being honest regarding how they really feel? (Aside from the sarcastic remark: “So, Janice, tells us how you really feel!”) Cynicism communicates from the heart, so you don’t have to question whether the person is being honest with their comment.

2) Cynical remarks give us a reality check with what was said, promised or done in the past. When people question the probability of the most recent promise actually happening, they almost always refer back to a prior promise or commitment that wasn’t fulfilled.(“Oh, so this is just like the time the management said that if we got the project completed on time, we’d share in the bonus the company received. Didn’t happen.”) So they help us remember what we said (and didn’t follow through on) before. They become sort of our informal historians.

3) Cynicism lets us know how people perceive our words and actions. Have you ever noticed that most cynical remarks are fairly quick, “on the spot” quips or “come back’s” to a statement? They are largely unedited thoughts and attitudes spoken out loud. And they fairly directly communicate how others view what we just said, did or promised – unfortunately, the message is: “I don’t believe you.” So most cynical remarks give us a clue that we need to work on our following through on what we say. (Sometimes, I will admit, that cynicism is coming from the heart of the speaker – that they are angry and resentful about life in general – and that their remark may have little to do with you, me or whoever is speaking.)

4) Cynicism provides the opportunity to learn what would be really meaningful to others. If we take the time to listen to the cynical comment, not dismiss it immediately as “disrespectful” and “unfounded”, then we actually can learn something from our colleagues. A follow-up question like: “What would could be done that would start to demonstrate that we mean what we say?” can provide some valuable insight into how others are thinking – and how we can begin to rebuild trust.

I’m not advocating for implementing strategies for increasing cynicism in our work environments (there seems to be plenty). But I do think we can learn positive lessons from the cynical remarks we hear, and then try to address the root issues of “unbelievability” that help create the cynical mindset.

The Power Of Positive Influence

When in a bad marriage, people often think they have only two options: resign themselves to a life of misery or get out. This limits one’s horizons to two equally devastating alternatives. In my book, Desperate Marriages, I talk about how to be a positive change agent in a difficult marriage. It is true that you cannot make your spouse change, but you can influence your spouse. One husband said, “I used to have rage in my heart toward my wife, but now, I realize what a wonderful wife I have.” Her positive actions stimulated positive emotions in him. With warm emotions his behavior also changed. Learning the power of positive influence could radically change your marriage. You need not be miserable forever.

Q&A: He Doesn’t Say “I Love You”

Q: “My boyfriend and I have been dating for 16 months. I have told him that I love him but he won’t say it to me and it bothers me. Does this indicate a problem?”

Gary Chapman: If he is not willing to say he loves you, it means either he is not attracted to you emotionally or he is not willing to commit himself to your well-being. The foundation stone of marriage is a commitment to love each other. I’m not talking about feelings—I’m talking about a commitment to seeking the well-being of the other person. That is what marriage is made of. At this point you may want to reconsider your relationship in light of this. However, if you want to continue the relationship to see if he warms up, or if he is willing to make positive steps in that direction, then my suggestion would be to begin to work through one of my books together entitled Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. The discussion that will come out of it will help you make a wise decision moving forward.

Can They Change?

One of the commonly held myths of our day is that “people cannot change.” If my spouse has been unfaithful, then they will certainly do it again, no matter what they promise. If they have miss-managed our money for 5 years, they will continue to do so. Accepting this myth leads to feelings of hopelessness. This myth fails to reckon with the reality of human freedom and the power of God. Libraries are filled with accounts of people who have made radical changes in their behavior. St. Augustine, who once lived for pleasure and thought his lusts were inescapable, radically changed and became a great leader in the church. People can and do change, and often the changes are dramatic. Don’t give up on the person you love.

Victims of Our Environment

The commonly held view is that we are victims of our environment. If I grew up in a dysfunctional family, then I am destined to failure in relationships. If I am married to an alcoholic, I will live a miserable life. This approach to life renders one helpless. The reality is that while our environment certainly affects us, it does not control us. Because we are made in God’s image, we have the capacity to choose our attitudes. We can curse the darkness, or we can light a candle. Your past and your present situation may be discouraging, but it need not destroy your marriage or your life. Reach out to God and ask: “What can I do that would be redemptive in my present situation?” That is a prayer God will answer.

Q&A: Hot Tempered Husband

Q:  “My husband is quick to anger and curses and yells when we fight. I feel like it borders on abuse. What can I do?”

Gary Chapman: This sort of thing should not be accepted as normal. The best thing you can do in this situation is to is apply tough love. Say something like this to your husband, “I don’t know if you love me or not, but it certainly doesn’t feel loving when you get angry and you curse at me. I love you too much to continue to sit here and let you do that. I’m going to move in with my mother and when you are willing to deal with this issue, then I am willing to engage with you in marriage counseling. I am not abandoning you—I am loving you. However, this type of behavior is not acceptable. I think you know that as well as I.” Then, you proceed to follow through with that tough love. This is probably the most powerful thing you can do for your husband.

Q&A: Not Interested

Q: “I feel drained in my marriage. My wife no longer seems interested in me or willing to put effort into making things work?”

Gary Chapman: The most powerful thing you can do is to love her unconditionally. Learn and speak her primary love language, regardless of how she treats you. She needs love—we all do. Therefore, when you communicate love in the way she desires most—her love language—you trigger something inside her that will draw her to you. We can’t control the behavior of a spouse, but we can greatly influence them by the way we treat them. How? Look back on the areas you feel you may have failed, make a genuine confession, and let her know that with God’s help you are going to be the husband she desires. This is one of the greatest things you can do to influence her to reciprocate.

Arguments Reveal the Heart

Arguments reveal the heart. Almost always, arguments grow out of unmet emotional needs. One wife said, “Little things like getting the old newspapers out to the garage for recycling is not a big deal to him, but it is to me because I hate clutter. It’s kind of a visual thing.” What is she saying? One of her emotional needs is to have order in the house. Clutter is emotionally upsetting to her. The wise husband and wife will look for the emotional need behind the argument. Why is my spouse so upset over what seems trivial to me? The answer to that question will help you understand your spouse. Meeting emotional needs, is one way to create a positive climate for communication.

Q&A: Family Before Spouse?

Q: “I’m wondering about the concept of “leaving and cleaving. I’m engaged and members of my family are saying that family comes before my husband. What is your take on this?”

Gary Chapman: The scriptures are very clear that when we get married we are to leave our parents and cleave to our spouse. That doesn’t mean we desert our parents. We must certainly honor them after we get married, but our main allegiance is to our husband or to our wife. Failure to reconcile with this and to clarify this before you get married will cause problems after you get married. If you and your fiancé don’t agree on this, it would be good for you both to sit down with a counselor or pastor to help clarify this Biblical teaching of leaving and cleaving. If you don’t, it will likely raise it’s head again after you get married. Far better to deal it it and clarify it before you tie the knot, then to try to deal with the consequences afterwards.

Q&A: My Fiancé has an STD

Q: “I just discovered that my fiancé tested positive for an STD from a past relationship. I feel hurt and disgusted and don’t know how to deal with it. Can you help?”

Gary Chapman: I think the answer is that you need to discuss this openly and freely. Discuss the nature of the sexually transmitted disease—is it treatable, and how will it affect your relationship from a medical perceptive? Then, you’ll need to wrestle with whether this is something you would like to constinue with given the reality of the situation. We cannot erase our past. . . and some of us have past experiences that aren’t good. If you are  not willing to live with that, accept that, and forgive that, then it could potentially be a deal breaker. I encourage couples to share their previous sexual expereince so that they enter marriage aware of what they are dealing with. If you find you can’t deal with it, solve it, or reconcile it before marriage, it will certainly be a problem after.