Porcupine Encounters

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You’re sure to encounter “prickly people” just about everywhere you go! And that means there will be some prickly folks at work too – people who rub you the wrong way, rarely have a positive thing to say, and are just rough to deal with. John Ortberg calls those kinds of people “porcupines” in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them.

Since you were created for relationship, you long to be close to others, but when you operate out of the “poke you before you poke me mentality,” it prevents you from successfully enjoying relationships in the way that you would like.

Leading doesn’t make you immune – it’s inevitable that you will encounter porcupine people; prickly people under your care. And believe it or not, some may have you in the porcupine category! The real question is how will you make nice with the porcupine people  in your life?

In today’s world, people tend to be especially prickly in e-mails. Sometimes it’s because you don’t have to look the person in the eye so you feel more freedom to express yourself in ways you might not ever consider in person. Other times, emails are written hurriedly and sent before you have a chance to evaluate the tone, so they come off far more prickly than you intended.

Most of the time, I find that prickly communication isn’t even an intentional.

A while back I got that kind of e-mail. It was a doozy and stung! I waited to reply. Then I made the conscious choice to respond in a very upbeat, positive, and friendly way.

I wish I could say that’s always my first thought, but it isn’t. The truth is there are moments when I slip into the porcupine category myself! The next day I got a delightful reply back along with an apology for the not-so-nice-toned email that was surprising, even to them, after rereading their e-mail.

The whole chain of events really got me thinking! When confronted with porcupine people, I have a choice: I can react and match the prickly tone, or I can make the choice to respond in a way that’s congruent with who God created me to be. So what keeps me from responding that way all of the time? Here’s what I came up with:

  • I feel threatened, shamed, or misunderstood, resulting in a need to set the record straight. (my insecurities)
  • I’m stressed and already on edge – nothing to do with anyone else. (my issues)
  • I’m tired, hungry, or already frustrated. (my poor management)
  • I have been going at full speed and lack the margin I need. (my lack of good planning)
  • Once again my Fear Monster is alive and well! (me caving to fear)
  • I’ve lost sight of who God created me to be; my identity in Him. (my identity confusion)

I am a loved daughter of the King! That is my true identity, yet at times I continue to struggle to live and lead from that place. My inner struggle shows that I am allowing my Fear Monster to overshadow who I really am.

They say that hurt people hurt people. That rings true for those “porcupine people” too! When you lack confidence, are unsure of who you are, or are in protective mode, there’s a greater chance that you will rub others the wrong way. That’s why being crystal clear and secure in who God created you to be matters – so you can be less prickly!

And as a leader, it’s paramount that you conduct yourself in a prickle free way! So how can you make sure you’re prickle-free?

1. Connect With the Father Daily

You become like those you spend time with, so who you spend time with is critical. I know that when I spend time with God He reminds me just how deep his Love for me is. He shares needed words of wisdom that guide me and give me tremendous confidence. He reveals the ways I need to change and thankfully he doesn’t stop there – He helps me change!

2. Read His Word Daily

Too often the Bible is viewed as a long list of dos and don’ts rather than a peak into the heart of God – His love letter to me. No matter how many times I’ve read it, there is always a new aspect of God to be opened up to me. I am reminded of His never ending faithfulness and unconditional love for me.

3. Meditate on the Right Thing

Meditating is scriptural – not just something associated with Eastern religions. When you ruminate on hurts, what so and so did, etc. you are meditating, just not on anything that will serve you in a positive way. When you choose to dwell on who God is, it is life giving. He is forgiving, merciful, gracious, patient, loving, faithful, powerful, and much more!

4. Take Responsibility

Nobody makes you do anything! You choose to react or respond the way you do. There are internal thoughts that are behind your choices. What do your choices reveal about how you see yourself? Do they reflect that you are a child of the King? What steps do I need to take to deal with my poor choices?

5. Be Clear About Fear

How is your Fear Monster getting activated? Who did God create you to be and how can you lean into who God created you to be? How might you be contributing to keeping your Fear Monster alive and well? When your Fear Monster is at work, it’s tough to operate in rational ways!

The e-mail moment ended well! It’s motivated me to put even more energy into responding to porcupine people in a way that more accurately reflects my true identity!

How you respond when you encounter “porcupines” is very telling about how you see yourself. That’s tough to swallow!

How often do others view you as the “porcupine” in their life personally or professionally? Could your responses be negatively affecting your ability to lead?

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