No one has right to push their religion on others in the workplace.
Yet, too often those with very strong beliefs and convictions feel entitled or obligated to, and fully justified in doing so.
The problem isn't the religious beliefs, per se. Rather, the problem is that the individual pushing their beliefs on their others who do not share them isn't respecting the right of others to hold their own, differing, beliefs.
3 SOURCES OF RESULTING CONFLICT
This creates a very uncomfortable work environment as one of three situations usually result.
First, when the religious beliefs are pushed on another with an alternate set of equally strong religious or philosophical beliefs, conflict arises as both parties believe they are right.
Second, when the religious beliefs are pushed on a coworker who is far less likely to get in the face of and confront the pushy person, the coworker begins to feel bullied and, where this repeatedly occurs, harassed (this is by far the most common scenario).
Third, the individual pushing their religious beliefs on others are essentially ostracized by their coworkers. This individual then makes claims of religious intolerance, discrimination, and bullying in the workplace against them due to their religion when it is actually their own behaviour - and not their religious beliefs - that cause their treatment.
Regardless of which scenario arises, one thing is certain in each case...management must engage in conflict neutralization to minimize (or eliminate) the conflict, prevent similar behaviours in the future, and possibly even prevent costly, yet needless, litigation against the company.
So, how can management neutralize the conflict at its source without making the situation worse? What can be done to effectively handle an employee who pushes their beliefs on others?
To answer this, I have pulled a case from our archives involving the second and most common scenario mentioned above.
Jane (not her real name, of course) worked with a woman who was very religious. All this woman spoke about was her God and her religion. She seemed to bring everything back to her religion and she could often be very judgmental when Jane and her other coworkers would talk about their families and their social lives, as many of them did on their lunch break.
Jane had nothing against religion or anyone’s beliefs but had had enough. Jane, who belonged to a church herself, had her own set of beliefs but recognized that, in the workplace, it was appropriate to keep her religious beliefs and views to herself unless asked.
Jane complained to her manager and her manager promised to take care of it. However, management was nervous about addressing the issue having been on the losing end of a religious discrimination lawsuit four years prior.
Jane and her manager were both unsure how to approach this without sounding like anti-religious and/or discriminatory.
As religion is always a sensitive issue with many people because it goes to the core of one's belief system, the first thing that Jane's manager did was absolutely correct...they called an expert (in this case...The 2% Factor!) rather than attempting to solve the problem on their own based on their own perceptions, beliefs, or (even worse) existing corporate policies that actually violated the religious employee's rights and freedoms under federal law.
THE RECOMMENDED RESPONSE...
Our response was based on two things. First was our proprietary methodology as taught in the Law of Cooperative Action Professional Mastery Program.
Second was the fact that in Canada (and most other developed western societies) we have freedom of religion, which requires (at least in theory) everyone to respect other peoples’ points of view.
In most societies where there is religious freedom there also exists a separation between church and state, which also is true in the workplace.
First, we reminded Jane and her manager that they must respect the right for everyone to believe in the religion they believe in, so no disparaging remarks or jokes could be allowed in the workplace, especially where those jokes or remarks may be directed to the pushy coworker.
By the same token, we stressed that no one has the right to push their religion on others, especially in the workplace.
We then advised that, no matter how frustrated or offended they were, Jane, her manager, and her coworkers needed to approach this woman in a respectful and caring way.
Remember what I mentioned a few moments ago...that religion is such a sensitive issue because it goes right to a person's belief system...so bluntly confronting her about her beliefs while in the workplace would be perceived as an attack against her religious beliefs and therefore an attack against her!
Instead, to be in alignment with the fundamentals of Professional Mastery, we advised Jane to not tell her religious coworker what she was doing wrong, but tell her what Jane needed and how she felt.
Experience has proven that this approach is far more effective because this woman honestly believed she was right. To tell her otherwise, that her actions were wrong, would be essentially telling her that her beliefs are wrong causing little more than defensiveness and additional conflict.
We instructed Jane to get past her ego voice that was screaming in her head, "but she may be doing this to me!".
We also explained how important it was for Jane and her manager to celebrate the woman's right to believe what she believed to avoid a bad situation.
***Now, some reading this may find our method counter-intuitive...after all, the actions or change required at this point were on the part of Jane, her manager, and her coworkers...NOT the pushy individual. This may hardly seem fair.
Fair, however, has nothing to do with it. Have you ever tried to get someone who whole-heartedly believed they were right to change? Simply put, they don't...at least not over the long term. Conflict resolution activities focusing on getting the other person to change rarely work.***
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
After speaking in more depth with Jane, we discovered that it wasn't as much the constant religious references that were causing Jane to feel the way she did but rather the fact that those references were used to rationalize being judgmental and always commenting on issues that had nothing to do with the woman.
So, we provided Jane with some words to use to approach her coworker in an effective way and resolve the conflict without the need for management involvement. We suggested politely saying something like:
"Thank you for your concern. However, what I am doing is only between me and my God, however I define that. You don't need to worry about me, though, I am alright."
We advised that if the pushy employee didn't get the hint at this point, then management could get involved.
However, more often than not - especially in cases where one party holds a strong belief that they are right - the pushy person honestly doesn't realize how they are negatively affecting the people around them.
They are blinded by their convictions, leaving them totally unaware of the damage they are causing.
Speaking to them in an honest, respectful way to create an awareness usually does the trick. A point to note here...when it doesn't do the trick, and the person continues with their offensive behaviour regardless of a new awareness, don't expect this person to change for any reason. They won't.
A TIP FOR THE RELIGIOUS WORKER
I know that your entire life is based on your religion and congratulations for having a deep faith, but frankly your coworkers really don’t need to hear about it.
You know that most people who are truly rich, don’t tell you how much money they have. Most people who have a good sense of self, don’t use the “I” word a lot. And most people who are truly deep in their faith don’t tell you about their faith.
The best way that you can spread the word of your faith is to actually live your faith. Simply by "being" your faith, you will be seen as an example that many will want to live up to.
The last thing your coworkers want is to be lectured about how they live their lives. They also do not want their beliefs constantly compared to yours. So by living your faith you will be able to show through your actions and deeds why you believe what you believe, something lecturing will not accomplish.
Finally how would you feel if your coworkers were constantly telling you what to believe and how to live?
Religious beliefs are just that...beliefs.
Beliefs are called such because they require a degree of faith that something is real or true despite conclusive evidence. However, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the saying goes.
In other words, just because a coworker doesn't speak about or flaunt their own beliefs at work doesn't mean they don't have any. Assume they do and always act in a way that is respectful of them and whatever beliefs they may hold.
By doing so, conflict, breakdowns in workplace relationships, and unnecessary litigation can be avoided.
For more great tips on how to handle difficult workplace situations, purchase "Workplace Wisdom: An Uncommon Common Sense Guide To Creating Amazing Workplace Relationships", click the button below.