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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Colleagues Behaving Badly

This week's question could probably have come from many of us at one time or another...

I get along well with male colleagues. I am not a newcomer to ministry, nor to life. But I still find myself surprised when male clergy who would likely describe themselves as liberal, progressive or even feminist, behave badly when I am in a position of authority "over" them. I may be teaching a class or workshop, or chairing a board or committee, or mentoring a student.

I don't expect it. I'm not looking for it. But it happens, and on those occasions I find I revert to old feelings and response patterns.
Matriarchs, how have you handled the male colleague who resists your appropriate leadership? How do you keep your cool? Move past it? Keep the group, if there is one, on task?

Kathryn was our sole respondent this week:

Good question. I go by the 3 strikes and you're out(ed) policy. I'll ignore it once, even twice... pause after it the third time and then name it. The key for me is quelling the ol' fight/flight response, by being able to name the behavior myself internally and then I'm more able to defuse the situation - hopefully with humor. Here are a few of the things I've said out loud,
"Are you okay, you seem a bit more outspoken than usual?"
"Really? You want to be that guy?"
"Please stop."

Because they take pride in their self-defined idea of themselves as progressive, liberal, etc... this is usually enough to get it to stop.

A guy would call them out on the behavior, it's important as women that we stand up for ourselves as well.

How have you handled colleagues behaving badly?  How did your strategy work for you?

Our mailbox is empty again...awaiting your questions.  Don't wait, thinking you will get to it later!  Send us your question here, please!

Finally, after several years of co-editing this feature, I am stepping down.  It's been a joy to work with Earthchick and all the Matriarchs, and a privilege to steward the joys and struggles you have shared in your questions for us.   Earthchick will resume as editor next week; next year another member of the blogring will join her.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. In my case, that male person only "thinks" he is well-defined and a non-anxious presence...and is also in a position of power in the next level of our polity. Many men and women in this presbytery thinks he walks on water. Icky situation all the way around.

  2. I have occasionally said, "Hmm, sounds as though there's a gender-based difference of opinion here. Let's talk about why that might be."

    1. good one. So often I clench and then can't think of the calm response.

  3. Thank you for all of your hard work on this feature throughout the years, Rev. Honey!

    1. My thoughts exactly! Thanks for stepping in when you did and being such a faithful contributor to RevGalBlogPals.

    2. Adding my thanks to theirs... peace to you!

    3. Amen - Thanks for doing this RevHoney!!

  4. I am afraid I don't do well in these situations either but I would support Kathryn's strategy. However I often take his head off before the 3rd time which makes me prickly to work with, I'm afraid. But I do apologize and then it is good to talk about it. Guys AND gals are often dense about what they do in professional interactions.

    I have had a significantly younger sister priest put me down in front of my bishop and colleagues and she is totally unaware of how inappropriate that is. So it isn't just the guy thing. And sometimes they don't ever get it.

    Knowing that I can't make any changes in how he behaves, I just have to change my behavior. If the guy then asks me why I am prickly or cool, THEN we talk about his comments that are bugging me. But I have often just had to smile knowingly when he does his guy-thing and walk away and consider the source.

    One of the sad things about our profession is that women in leadership in the church is still new enough that often women entering the ministry use male models for they way they interact. This isn't a healthy thing for us and this is the reason I am sure why we blog; why we have gathered to claim our own voices.

    The male political issues that you describe are part of that legacy. I think that we may need to continue to describe what it means to be women in political institutions to support one another and how not to be drawn into the political world of men without making our mark known.

    1. Please say more about this. I agree that women bring different approaches and interpretations. What do you think are female models? More consensus-based? How can we model a different way without appearing weak or indecisive?

  5. I also struggle with a kind but direct response. When my CPE group read 'The Anatomy of Peace" (on conflict) I did some re-thinking of my default strategies in times of conflict. I'm better, but not perfect at it. I'm learning not to get tense and growl (or as Muthah+ said, get prickly) but it is hard.

    I have been using two phrases which help me be direct without being rude, even if they are.

    - "Let's hold questions or comments please until the end." (That takes away the coolness factor and gives everyone a clue that you are going to give a time to ask questions or debate.)

    - "Don't interrupt, please." (That said, it is a little school-marm-ish and corrective, but it has worked to help someone cease.)

    The worst case scenario for me was during a sermon when someone actually said, "Oh dear God, she's going feminista on us again." I had to stop, step away from my sermon notes, look directly at the person and say, "That was rude. If you are upset, you can take a breather and we can chat after the service." I then walked back to the podium, said to the congregation, "I'm sorry. That was direct but I think I needed to be. Let me restate my past point..." And I moved on.

    The congregation was overwhelmingly supportive. Before I had a chance to talk to him, two men and two women buttonholed the guy and by the time he saw me, he was apologetic. I still met him for coffee and we talked about why he was so angry about my views on equality. We still disagree. But he hasn't done THAT again.

    All this to say that I HATE CONFLICT and I HATE RUDE PEOPLE. Whew. Now I feel better. :)

    1. Wow. That is a very bad worst case scenario. You handled it beautifully.

  6. I wish I had the capability to have grace under pressure. I don't do so well. I'm learning... but I have a ways to go. It helps me with my own attitude check with I think of something my mom says -- basically that boorishness shows bad manners, not good insight. I try to not retaliate because I don't want to stoop to their level. Gad, it's hard.

  7. I was reminded by my husband of an area conference we went to with many, many churches in a "loose association of churches" (aka nondenominational). It was free. We had free babysitting. We thought, "eh, why not?" Until HE was the only male in the "wives" seminar and I was one of TWO women in the "pastors" seminar. We still laugh.

  8. I'm not an pastor but I am manager in industry and am very used to being the only woman in the room, and to being in authority situations with a bunch of guys. I wholeheartedly agree with having a couple of set phrases up your sleeve. "Can we keep comments for the end" is always good. If this is recurring, and your "problem-guy" self-perceives as a nice progressive taking him aside afterwards and pointing out that his behavior is undermining might put a stop to it.

    It might also be useful to think about whether the acting-out is gender related or not (because guys can act like dorks to other guys too). Because if its not gender related, then it might just go with the territory of being the authority-figure in the room.

    Just as you shouldn't expect less respect because you are women, you also shouldn't expect more...

  9. just want to add my thanks to Chrysanne for all of her faithful service!

  10. Having grown up with a brother and raising two boys, I have no problem calling them out on it. I tend to use my mom voice, so I consciously try to tone that down.
    I love the "gender-based difference of opinion" - totally stealing that one!!


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