Healthy Communication: What do I say?… How do I say it?

by Rafee Jajou

Rafee serves as the employee staff care lead at Christian Bros and provides a pastoral presence in La Mesa.  He is a partner with Squarepatch (an employee care service).  He’s also my homie and good friend!

I was raised in a home with a lot of unhealthy communication. Shaming and blame was almost a weekly occurrence. Fear and love were always in a battle. For many of us, we may have learned from childhood what we don’t want in our own relationships and family life. Unfortunately we still inherit some unhealthy ways, and these can even affect our workplace too.

I’m taking an online seminar in healthy boundaries and communication. There are some key ideas that could help any situation where there’s a need for healthy communication. There are 3 main ways of communicating: Passive, Assertive, Aggressive.

Myth: The primary goal in communication is agreeing.
Truth: Priority #1– Our first goal in communication is to understand the other person, regardless if we agree or disagree with someone.

When we listen well and ask questions, we can see what is going on from their viewpoint…

  • If that isn’t the goal, then we’re starting off on the wrong foot and there will eventually be a break-down in communication.
  • We must seek to communicate what’s going on inside of us, and not to assume what’s going on inside of someone else. Our job is to help someone understand us, and ask someone to help us better understand them.
  • Listening well and seeking understanding sends the message, “You matter to me,” and decreases anxiety in the moment.

Communication Styles:

  • A healthy communicator is an assertive communicator. They require people’s respect, and others to manage themselves (be self-controlled) in any given relationship.
  • The passive communicator sends the message “Your needs matter; mine don’t”. They might say things like, “Fine. Whatever you want. Don’t worry about me.”
  • The aggressive communicator believes, “I matter; you don’t”. Fear and intimidation are used to communicate their needs.
  • A passive-agressive communicator sends the message, “You matter… no, not really.” They use sarcasm, innuendos, veiled threats, and manipulation to communicate their needs.
  • Assertive communicators send the message: “You matter and so do I”. They require conversations to involve two self-controlled people. They say things like “I’d be glad to listen as long as this conversation is respectful”, or “I will take you out to the ball game as soon as you’re done with ______.”

So Assertive communication is what we’re practicing and aiming for because it respects the power of both sides and invites growth and trust.

Perennial Questions Leaders Need to Answer

I’m a huge fan of Patrick Lencioni.  When I grow up, I wanna be like him.

In this short video, he offers some advice on the questions that need constant clarity within the corporation and departments.  These questions are for every manager to ask and answer for their teams.  They offer clarity…and motivation with purpose.  I call them perennial questions because they’re long lasting and require constant attention.

My son’s have constantly asked “why” questions.  Sometimes it annoys me, but they buy into whatever we’re doing at home when we take the time to answer the “W” questions.

A company should be no different.  People want motivation and purpose to show up to work.  We’re all kids in the sandbox that want to play.  It helps to know what we’re playing and whose “it”.

Successful Teams Share These 5 Traits


1. Dependability.

Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.

2. Structure and clarity.

High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles within the group.

3. Meaning.

The work has personal significance to each member.

4. Impact.

The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.

Yes, that’s four, not five. The last one stood out from the rest:

5. Psychological Safety.

We’ve all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. I get it. It’s unnerving to feel like you’re in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope.

But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That’s psychological safety.


  • What if current team members don’t exude these traits?
  • Can leaders/managers help team members transform into these traits?
  • As a leader, who are you talking to about team and leadership development?  What practices are you doing to shape your leadership formation?


  • These are habits/practices to embody for life, not just work.  That’s why we can’t have a dualistic way of seeing work as professional and life as personal.  The name of the game is integration.
  • We can’t become these traits on our own.  We must realize that it’s a process and that we need a means to become this in our core.  They’re not just “soft skills” to attain.  We must become them.

Tips on firing a toxic employee

Every company will have to deal with a bad “hire”.  Here’s a way to remove the toxic person from the company.  Toxic employees cause toxic company culture.


1. Make sure there are two people in the room when you have this discussion. The door should be shut for privacy, but under no circumstances should this discussion happen one on one. One person can remain completely silent, but you need a witness.

2. Explain, explicitly what the problem is. You can’t say “You’re mean and no one likes you.” You can says

You cut people off mid-sentence
You told Karen she was ugly.
You yelled at Steve in a meeting in front of a client
etc, etc, etc.
3. Has she been told any of this before? I don’t think so, from your letter, so she will be SHOCKED and she will DENY that she has done any of that. She will speak about her accomplishments.

4. Acknowledge her accomplishments, but state clearly that this is about her attitude.

5. Don’t get defensive. It’s very easy to get caught up in defending yourself. You don’t need to do this. You can restate the problems and reiterate that this behavior needs to change.

6. Present her with written documentation of what she

has done wrong
needs to do differently
how this will be monitored
what the consequences will be if she doesn’t fix the problem
7. If she makes improvements, be prepared to acknowledge them. You need to be sure that if you are giving her 30 days to improve and she does improve that you don’t fire her. That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
8. If she doesn’t make improvements, terminate her on day 30. Don’t wait until day 32 because someone is out of town. Don’t put it off a week to give her one more chance. Day 30 is her last day of work.

9. Terminate her in a straight forward fashion. Here is a sample dialogue:

Mary, as you know, you have been on a 30 day probation. The terms of this are spelled out here: [present documentation]. As we have discussed, you have not met requirements 1, 3, 4, 5, and 8. Therefore today is your last day of work. Would you like assistance packing up your things?
10. Don’t hover unless you feel that she will cause real problems. How you treat someone when you fire them is extremely important to the financial health of your organization.
11. After she’s gone, tell everyone that she is gone. Don’t let people guess. You don’t need to tell them she was fired–that part is obvious. Again, sample dialogue:

Today was Mary’s last day of work. We appreciate the work she did for us and wish her well in her new endeavors. We’re going to begin the process of hiring someone new to take her place. In the mean time, we hope everyone can pitch in to cover her old responsibilities.

Personal and Structural Evils in the Workplace: A Response of how to Overcome Evil with Good

Christus Victor

Christus Victor

[This is an adaptation from a paper I’m currently writing.]

Last night, our class had a thrilling discussion on the reality of evil.  While we can’t figure out the origin of evil, we do know that it’s real.  Take the story, for example, of a famous psychiatrist who had to come to terms with evil itself:

“The second element which must be factored in is the psychological one. The famous American psychotherapist M. Scott Peck was for many years an agnostic. He learned his psychiatry according to the standard model in which there was no such thing as evil. But at around the same time as, to his own surprise, he came into the Christian faith, he came to recognize that in some cases at least it was not enough to regard certain patients, or in some cases the families of certain patients, as simply ill or muddled or misguided. He was forced to come to terms with a larger, darker power, for which the only word was evil. He wrote his book People of the Lie to articulate this unpopular viewpoint.”  – N. T. Wright. Evil and the Justice of God
We moved the discussion towards structural evil which is more systemic in nature and involves examples such as power differential in corporations, the rich-poor gap, chronic abuse, and others.
I kept thinking of the workplace and some of the dynamics that HR and the company face.  Sure we can label the issues:  an employee’s negative attitude, stealing, lying, manipulation, greed, misuse of power, etc.  But much of this is influenced by this force of evil, this disposition that many have given into.  And evil is defined as a defiant-rebellious-narcissism contrary to the ultimate character and will of a loving God.  Even half-truths or situations where matters seem grey appear to have slithers of this evil force at work.
Before we are too alarmed or think that we’d never behave like this, might I remind us to look at our own lives and see how we have allowed the force of evil to influence us.  We too are culprits of allowing evil to have some type of disposition and influence in our hearts.
A Christian ethic, in the context of workplace and social ethic, might provide us with a paradigm to perceive the daily interactions among employees and see that many of the of accusations, deceptive mannerisms, and poor judgment could be attributed to an evil force that is influencing some.  I am not trying to glorify evil in this sense, but am trying to offer a view and response to the questions that I concurrently hear throughout the workplace:
  • Why do employees misbehave?
  • Why did so-and-so lie about this accounting spreadsheet?
  • What motivated this employee to sue the company?
  • Why is this manager constantly misusing and abusing their power?
  • Why is this employee constantly threatening others with their snide remarks?
  • How could this employee steal money from us?
A humanist/atheist/agnostic worldview might simply say that evil does not exist.  They might dismiss the issues as childhood trauma, our shadow/dark parts of the self, or a lack of education.  All of these responses might have some relevance (in fact, many times trauma and lack of education are major contributors–and receiving the proper healing and education might help empower the person).  Yet there is an origin, a disposition of an evil force at work during the trauma, in the shadow/dark self, or realizing that because of a structural evil one was unable to attend school due to a lack of finances.  But this humanistic/atheist/agnostic worldview does not have an answer for responding to this force of evil.
The Christian Tradition’s Response to Evil
The ultimate response to evil is seen in the way Jesus acknowledges it, confronts it, and defeats it.  Jesus wasn’t just a great moral teacher or life guru that came to model an exemplar life.  Many subscribe to this but it falls short of the Gospel truth.  Jesus came to proclaim and inaugurate God’s Rule and Reign on earth as in heaven.  Part of this proclamation was to confront the structural and immoral evils.  Wherever evil and injustice existed, Jesus was quick to confront it through a healing touch, shedding light and truth over and against darkness and deception, extending forgiveness to the “unforgivable”, confronting abusive leadership, and ultimately destroying the work of the Devil (1 John 3:8).
In the book of Ephesians 6:10-18, the Apostle Paul teaches the early church how to confront and overcome evil:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

It is my summation that much of the weariness and cynicism that many leaders in the workplace face is contributed to the ongoing work of confronting structural and personal evil.  It is hard work having to confront injustices and systemic problems that just don’t seem to go away.  Yet Paul tells us to take a stand and arm ourselves.  Take note that you are not battling “Suzie” or “Tyler”.  No.  You are confronting the force of evil that is influencing and deceiving many.  This is not to make evil the scapegoat because Jesus has destroyed the power of the evil one and we have the power to choose which voice we will listen to.

The Christian worldview is to live in the authority of Jesus, to act in accordance to His heart and character, to trust the work of the Cross, and to claim for ourselves the victory of Christ over all evil.  While Jesus already did this work, it has yet to be fully consummated on earth.  Part of the Gospel message is that we are now partners with Christ to assail the work of evil in our own contexts.  We are now heralds and agents of the work of Christ.  We are called to promote forgiveness, justice, ethical/moral living, a solid work and social ethic, and to extend healing, grace, and mercy as much as we can in Christ.

Instead of crumbling in defeat, we are to take a stand on the Victory of Christ over death and evil!  We must pray to see how we can all do this in the marketplace.

Some Stories that Highlight the confronting of evil and doing good (don’t be overcome by evil…overcome it with Good!! Rom. 12:21)

*A manager who has been providing care and support to a single mother.  The manager has been periodically checking in on the employee to see how they’re doing and to offer support to the best of their ability.  

*An employee offered his vacation time to anybody who might need an extended amount of time to recover from surgery or an ailment!  It put tears in my eyes to hear that he wanted to do this!

*A manager, the other day, brought in one of his employees to his office because the employee was not performing as usual.  Instead of beating down the employee, the manager shared all the good qualities the employee usually embodies.  And then asked him, “What has changed?  You’re usually on top of things.”  It turns out the employee was going through a slump and just needed some encouragement.

*The other day I had the chance to pray for an employee who struggling with physical pain, as well as the sadness of seeing his brother struggling with cancer.  We prayed and the employee began crying.  Afterwards, they said, “I just needed to release this burden with tears.  Thanks for letting me do that”.  

Let’s continue to overcome evil in our own contexts with good.  And then share the story with someone.  Share it with me if you can!!!  🙂