21 Warning Signs You're Rubbing People the Wrong Way

people skills Aug 29, 2021

You’ve seen it before.

Co-workers are in a huddle — talking, giggling, laughing.

About what exactly, you don’t have an earthly clue. But you get this funny feeling they’re talking about you.

When you walk by to stop and say hello, everyone becomes oh so quiet and behaved all of a sudden.

Sadly, this happens more often than not…

People offend us, and we offend people.

Sometimes without even knowing it.

Of all the lessons in real Christianity, one of the hardest to master is godly relationships. In fact, “Christians” are notorious for treating others badly.

In one church I’ve attended, the most common problem has been expressed this way: “We have not always treated each other in a godly manner.”

Jesus Christ [Yahshua the Messiah] prophesied that “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).

Have you been offended lately? Have you and I caused an offense? Most probably we have. And our love may have grown cold.

Where are the blessed peacemakers, who shall be called the children of God [YHWH]?

Many years ago, I read an insightful book written by Marshall Goldsmith called, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

Mr. Goldsmith is an American executive coach recognized in 2011 as the most influential leadership thinker in the world by Thinkers 50 and Harvard Business Review.

In chapters 4 and 5 of his book, he identifies 21 habits that hold people back from the top. I call these the 21 warning signs that you’re rubbing people the wrong way.

Could you be rubbing people the wrong way, without even knowing it? Let’s check the warning signs one by one, with short quotes from the book:

1. You need to win too much

The need to win at all costs and in all situations — when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point… Winning too much is easily the most common behavioral problem that I observe in successful people.

Let’s be clear. We’re not talking about doing your best. I’m all for excellence — for giving it all you’ve got.

When I was younger, I used to run the 100-meter dash. I don’t ever recall entering a race to lose. When I join an essay contest, I don’t write to lose. When I play badminton, bowling or basketball, I play to win. I think you do too.

It’s normal and natural to want to win. Now I don’t always win, mind you, but I always do my best to win. 🙂

But the need to win at all costs, and by all means, is a problem. This unhealthy, unbalanced drive is a selfish approach to life. It’s about getting, not giving. The Bible reminds us in Philippians 2:3:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

One of the most powerful examples I have witnessed was when I was a student at Ambassador College. I have attended other universities during a basketball game. Usually, there is intense animosity and rivalry between schools.

When a player from the other school misses a shot, he is loudly booed by the rival school. At Ambassador College, we were taught to applaud the other team for every shot they make. That was a change for me.

The attitude of pride and selfishness is at the root of the need to win at all costs. This attitude is not of God, but of Satan. In some cultures, like the U.S., winning is wrongly linked to self-worth. One of the most painful names you can call someone is a “loser.” This explains the unhealthy drive and need to win at all costs, even when it is totally beside the point.

According to the book, “winning too much is the #1 challenge because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem.”

How about you? Do you:

  • Argue too much to make your view prevail over everyone else's?
  • Put other people down to position them beneath you?
  • Ignore people by making them fade away?
  • Withhold information to give yourself an edge over others?
  • Play favorites and give “your side” an advantage?

If so, you may be rubbing other people the wrong way. Remember, life is not about winning all the time. Winning at all costs shouldn’t define you as a person. One of the characteristics of godly wisdom is being “willing to yield” (James 3:17).

Instead of wanting to win all the time, find ways to make other people win. Be a giver. Be a leader. Make people win.

2. You add too much value

The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

There’s nothing wrong with adding value per se. But adding too much value is not always helpful or needful.

This is somewhat related to the first point, about the need to win too much. When you add too much value, you want to give your unsolicited opinion on almost everything. This could irritate and annoy others…

You cannot accept someone’s idea without trying to “improve” on it somehow. You find it hard to listen to others telling you something you already know without communicating two things: a) “We already knew that” and b) “We know a better way.”

Have you ever presented an idea to your boss and he said, “Great idea, but…? It invalidates everything he said before the word “but.”

We all need to learn to stop at the word “idea.” While you might have an even better idea, try to resist the urge to "add value," unless asked. The person would feel a greater sense of ownership and commitment to his or her idea if you just listened with patience and humility. Now if he or she would ask for your suggestion or input, then by all means give your input.

The principle in Philippians 2:3 is important here. It’s to “esteem others better than himself.” Listening without interruption to add our two cents to the discussion takes a lot of humility, especially when you think you know it all. A truly great leader will listen and gently guide and correct.

Even God knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). Yet, He doesn’t interrupt our prayers in mid-sentence.

Instead of adding too much value, know when to stop. Let other people come up with the good ideas. Encourage them. Listen.

3. You pass judgment

The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

When I was in college, I took a course in Personal and Organizational Leadership, based on Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We learned that “you don’t see the world as it is, but as you are.” In other words, you think you are objective, but you’re really not. No one is completely, 100% objective, except God.

We each see the world through “glasses” that determine how we see and what we see. This is our paradigm, our framework for determining the meaning of things. Our way of seeing things is not the only way to see things.

When we pass judgment on someone else as if it’s the final word on the issue, we show that we’re not humble. Our way is not the only way, nor is it always the best way either. To think otherwise is the height of pride and arrogance.

We need to ask God for His wisdom to guide us in His way. We can easily misperceive situations if we’re not so guided.

When it comes to the behavior of others, Jesus taught us not to condemn others. In James 4:11–12, the apostle writes:

Do not speak evil of one another brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Judging is easy. Understanding and empathizing is hard. That’s why so few do it. Be one of the few who gets it, and does it.

4. You make destructive comments

The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

Misusing our tongue is one of the greatest problems we face. This certainly includes Christians.

We open our mouths to “be open, honest, candid, and constructive.” Yet, to the person who is on the receiving end of your words, it is destructive. When we make insensitive, cutting remarks, they cause offense, not encouragement.

We must be particularly careful about jokes. They may be funny to you and to others hearing the joke. But at whose expense? How would you like to be on the receiving end of your own jokes? Do you enjoy being the butt of other people’s jokes?

The Bible tells us to avoid “foolish talking, coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:4). Be a master of your tongue, instead of its servant.

Instead of making destructive comments, say nothing at all. But try to find something positive to encourage people about.

5. You start with “No,” “But,” or “However”

The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

This is somewhat related to “adding too much value” (#2) above. However, there is always a negative spin to the comment.

One time, I gave my input to someone I respected and worked for. He said, “I disagree with you” in a condescending tone as if to say, “You’re wrong. Your opinion is worthless. I’m much better than you.”

I don’t have a problem with someone disagreeing with me. We don’t always agree on every issue. It’s just the way he said it. You can disagree with someone, without being disagreeable. I think we all need to follow the biblical advice in Colossians 4:6:

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Even when one is clearly in the wrong, we should very gently point out the error in a diplomatic, tactful way:

But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (2 Timothy 2:23–25, NKJV).

Next time, try not to add a “no,” “but,” or “however.” Say “and” instead. Let’s be more humble in how we respond to people.

6. You tell the world how smart you are

The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

We’ve all experienced being around people who seem to find the need to brag about themselves and their accomplishments, even when it is uncalled for. It always rubs people the wrong way.

If you’re really smart, people will figure it out without you having to constantly remind them. Most people aren’t that stupid. They can figure it out. And if you’re not that smart, they will figure that out too, in spite of your bragging and boasting.

Above all, true smarts (also called wisdom) is demonstrated by good conduct and humility (James 3:13–14):

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.

Therefore, don’t brag or boast. Let your actions and results speak. Let your character do the communicating.

7. You speak when angry

Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

Perhaps we have all spoken when we’re angry. I know I have. And there may be things we’ve said that we have later regretted. But speaking when angry is not a very good idea.

Even writing a letter to someone in the heat of rage is not advisable either. Something that’s written is permanent, especially in this age of the Internet. An angry rant you wrote in an email or on social media can be online for a very long time — if not forever.

I think it’s much wiser to capture positive, beautiful emotions in writing, but not negative emotions such as anger. We don’t want to have a permanent record of our stupidity.

Also, avoid writing IN ALL CAPS (especially with exclamation points!). People may think you’re yelling, even when you’re not.

Perhaps the most appropriate biblical advice on this point would be James 1:19:

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

It takes a great deal of self-control to refrain from speaking, and from getting angry, until we have first listened carefully and thought things through in a calm state of mind. We can never make wise decisions in a fit of rage. I have done it. You may have done it. It’s time to stop this, lest we say something we would later regret. And that person will probably never forget it.

8. You spread negativity

The need to share our negative thoughts (“Let me explain why that won’t work”) even when we weren’t asked.

Are you a negative person? I hope not. It’s bad enough to be negative. But spreading negativity rubs people the wrong way.

We need to be careful about sharing our unsolicited thoughts, especially if they’re negative. Maybe we’re just trying to help. Maybe we see something they don’t. But “a man convinced against his own will is of the same opinion still!”

If someone is truly wise, they will ask you for advice. That is, if they think you are credible and have something valuable to offer. But even if they didn’t, and you still shared your thoughts with them, they would still listen and take them into consideration. Sadly, most people are not like that.

There may be times though, when you have to share your thoughts, out of love, if you think the other person is about to commit a very big mistake. Out of concern, you would reach out to them with this "unsolicited advice." It might annoy them, but if you really love your friend or family member, you would not just let them do something that would have lasting repercussions.

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19–20).

Therefore, as in #4 above, if you don’t have anything “positive” to say, don’t say it. Unless you have a moral responsibility.

9. You withhold information

The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.

I have noticed something here in the Philippines. There isn’t much free sharing of ideas, techniques, strategies, and tips on how to be successful. In the US, where I lived for over five years, there is much more sharing of information.

Stephen Covey calls this the “scarcity mentality” vs. the “abundance mentality.” When people operate with the scarcity mentality, they feel that life is a zero-sum game…

If I give to you, that means there would be less for me. So I have to keep it all to myself.

Usually, this involves information on trade secrets, key suppliers, resources, etc. Whatever gives us an unfair advantage over the competition, we tend to keep close to our chest. We don’t share it with others.

Jesus Christ doesn’t think like this. Disclosure of information is one of the signs of true friendship:

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).

Jesus even said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

Being kept out of the loop is offensive to people. Being left in the dark or being the last one to know rubs people the wrong way. We may not do it intentionally, but we still do it. Why? Because we may be too busy, or we may just be careless or thoughtless.

So be as open as you can with the people who matter in your life and work. Take the time to keep them updated and in the loop.

10. You fail to give proper recognition

The inability to praise and reward.

If people have done a good job, one of the worst things we can do is fail to recognize them for a job well done. Sure, people must do things not for the sole purpose of getting recognized, but it’s just plain bad manners to fail to give due recognition. The Bible teaches that we must give credit (or honor) to whom it is due (Romans 13:7).

When Jesus Christ comes back, He will bring rewards according to our work (Revelation 22:12):

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.

Jesus Christ will not only give tangible rewards, but He will also praise those who have done well (Matthew 25:21, 23).

There is nothing as powerful as positive reinforcement and praise. People rise to your expectations of them. Give people a lot of encouragement, even when they’re not doing so great. Let them know you still believe in them. Be generous with your praise!

11. You claim credit that you don’t deserve

The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

People can overlook an unintentional failure to give proper recognition, but they will not tolerate stealing credit that we don’t deserve. According to Marshall Goldsmith, such an act generates more negative emotion than anything else on this list.

For each of our accomplishments that we claim the credit for, we have to think:

Is there someone else who helped us achieve our objective? Is there somebody else who needs to be credited for this?

Train yourself to think of others first, not yourself. It’s a rare thing that we can accomplish anything by ourselves alone.

If we can’t think of anyone else, let’s never forget God. He deserves most of the credit for all our success (Acts 12:23).

12. You make excuses

The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

We love to make excuses. Most of us anyway. Some are not so subtle, some are. But they all sidestep the principle of taking 100% responsibility for our actions. Making excuses empowers other factors outside yourself, making you less responsible — even irresponsible.

Why do most people love to make excuses? Because they’re easy to make. It’s harder to keep our promises. It’s tougher to fulfill our commitments.

Excuses are cop-outs. They’re easy ways out. And we love to take the easy way. You only need to be creative to come up with another good excuse. Therefore, there’s practically no limit to the number of excuses you can come up with.

But an excuse is worthless. It never excuses you from growing up. From taking 100% responsibility. From being who you ought to be. The day we drop all our excuses will be the day we begin to achieve solid results in our lives.

God doesn’t accept our excuses. When He calls us, He expects us to respond immediately (Luke 14:16–24).

Therefore, let’s drop the excuses and face life squarely. Accept 100% responsibility for your life. You can do it with God’s help!

13. You cling to the past

The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

Aside from making excuses, people love to cling to the past. For many people, the past is a very comfortable place to be.

We blame our past for who we are and for our present results (or the lack thereof). We blame our upbringing, our genes, our grandparents, our parents, our lack of opportunities, our poverty, whatever.

But clinging to the past makes you powerless to do anything about the present and change the future. You become so fixated on the problems and limitations of your past that you shut off all creativity and resourcefulness to deal with your present.

God doesn’t want us to dwell on the past. Learn lessons from it, yes. But we should focus on the present and the future:

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13–14).

When you deflect blame from ourselves and onto events and people from the past, we don’t empower ourselves, but other factors that we don’t have control over. We cannot change the past. We need to let go and move forward, with God’s help.

14. You play favorites

Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

Do you play favorites? It’s one of those things that cause a lot of problems in a family, classroom, or company.

It causes confusion. It destroys motivation. It obliterates morale. How many of us have seen people who try to be the teacher’s pet? Or people who suck up to the boss? And what do we think of the teacher or the boss who has a pet or a favorite?

Right. It’s downright irritating and annoying. Unfortunately, “dirty politics” still happens, not only in government or business, but even in churches and religious organizations.

In the New Testament Church at Corinth, there was partiality, envy, strife, and division (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4–5).

In the Bible, we have a story of a family that played favorites. The story of Isaac and Rebekah, that had their own favorite sons. Isaac loved Esau while Rebekah loved Jacob. This caused a sibling rivalry that lasted many, many years.

Later, in the family of Jacob, he perpetuated the flaw. He had a favorite wife (Rachel), and a favorite son (Joseph). This created bitter animosity among the wives and siblings. Eventually, this became the cause of Joseph being sold as a slave into Egypt.

God is a God who shows no partiality nor does He accept bribes (Deuteronomy 16:19). Unlike human beings, He does not fall for flattery nor does He want us to flatter any man (Job 32:21). God can read the hearts and the inner motives of all people.

Strive to treat everyone fairly. Leaders tend to be especially vulnerable to flattery and special treatment. They tend to surround themselves with yes-men and sycophants. The wise leader will resist the urge to play favorites and will treat everyone equally.

15. You refuse to express regret

The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.

When you have wronged or offended someone, there is a way to handle it. Apologize.

Some people find it extremely hard to express regret. The reason might be pride. They fear that it means they have lost.

The inability to take responsibility for our actions and admit we’re wrong is one of the hardest things for a human being to do.

But to grow as a human being and as a Christian, we need to be humble enough to admit when we are wrong.

We should not be afraid (or too prideful) to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Rather than lessen your respect in the eyes of others, it would even grant you greater respect in their eyes — knowing you were big enough to admit your error.

In Matthew 5:23, Jesus talked about the importance of reconciliation before offering a gift to God. If we there realize that someone has something against us, it is more important to first get reconciled than to offer a spiritual gift before God.

16. You don’t listen

The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

In school, we have classes in reading, writing, and speaking, but we don’t have a single class in basic listening.

Now why is that? We should! People are not trained on how to really listen today. What we tend to do is pretend to listen.

A failure to listen is a form of disrespect for anyone who is speaking. It is tantamount to saying, “I don’t have time for you. I don’t care about you. What you’re saying is not really that important to me. You and your ideas are not that important.”

In James 1:19, we are commanded to be “swift to hear.” That means we must be quick to listen, and to pay close attention…

Listen not with your ears alone, but also with your eyes and with your heart. Feel what the person is saying, deep down inside.

17. You fail to express gratitude

The most basic form of bad manners.

When someone has done something for us, we should say thank you.

How hard is that? Yet, that is sadly neglected by so many. Why? Because gratitude is an attitude.

Sometimes, we can become very thoughtless and insensitive that we tend to forget and fail to express gratitude.

This is again rooted in a selfish way of thinking. Of getting rather than giving.

We tend to forget that such is the most basic form of bad manners. Failing to express gratitude rubs people the wrong way because we do not give credit to whom it is due. We fail to acknowledge and give proper recognition.

We actually violate several principles and manifest many flaws when we fail to express gratitude. We fail to even thank God.

The Bible tells us, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Be sure to develop the habit of always saying “thank you” to everyone, but especially to God. Again, make it a habit.

18. You punish the messenger

The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.

How do you react when someone points out something that you need to change? Do you resent it?

We don’t like people pointing out our flaws. In fact, we hate it! We don’t like to feel uncomfortable. It’s human nature to want to hear nice things said about us. We don’t like to be told we’re wrong. We don’t like to be challenged in our cherished beliefs.

Therefore, if someone points something out, we tend to attack him or her. We don’t consider whether what they are saying has any truth or merit. We just lash out at him or her for rearranging our view of reality. “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” we say.

Like the prophets of old, people who speak the truth today are unpopular. But do you punish them for speaking the truth?

Instead of attacking the messenger, the attitude we must have is one of accepting correction with humility:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23).

19. You pass the buck

The need to blame everyone but ourselves.

This flaw is as old as time.

It dates back to the Garden of Eden, when our first parents, Adam and Eve, committed the first sin (Genesis 3).

Did Adam take the blame? Accept the responsibility for eating the forbidden fruit? No. He blamed Eve. He passed the buck.

How about Eve? Did she take the blame? Accept the responsibility? No. She blamed the serpent. Again, she passed the buck.

This is a common trait of human nature. It’s easy to blame everyone but ourselves. It’s related to making excuses above.

When we blame something or someone else, we avoid facing up to our part in fixing the problem.

Human nature likes to take the easy way out. We don’t like the hard work of having to change. What more convenient way to accomplish our objective (of doing as little as possible) than just passing the buck? No need to think or do anything.

But what we need are people who are reliable. Who are faithful and dependable and who will get the job done (Luke 12:42–43).

20. You have an excessive need to be you

Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

Have you ever heard people say, “That’s just the way I am?” It’s just not true.

They say, “I came from a family of hotheads, so I’m naturally hot-tempered. That’s just the way I am.”

Or, “I’m messy and disorganized. I’ve heard that smart and creative people are that way.”

This warning sign is related to making excuses above because we tend to excuse our bad habits by labeling them as “just the way I am.” But what happens is we absolve ourselves of responsibility in changing whatever aspect of our nature is not acceptable.

It’s true we all have human tendencies and negative traits. But we should never use them as permanent excuses. We can and must change. Christ commands us, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

21. You are goal-obsessed

It’s not a flaw. It’s a creator of flaws. It’s the force that distorts our otherwise exemplary talents and good intentions, turning them into something we no longer admire… It’s one thing to pursue your dreams — but not if that pursuit turns a dream into a nightmare.

At first blush, there seems to be nothing wrong with goal obsession. What’s so wrong with being goal-driven? The problem comes when we tend to elevate the goal above more important matters. We begin to set the wrong kind of goal. And we relentlessly pursue it to the exclusion of other, more important goals.

We work too hard to provide for our family. In the process, we neglect to spend time with our family, for whom we are working. We work hard to gain a promotion at work, but step on other people and colleagues on our way to the top.

This is what goal-obsession does. It gives us tunnel vision. We overlook more important issues by focusing on the goal.

Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Keep the big picture in mind…

Loving God and other people (Mark 12:30–31). Seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

Make love and righteousness your goal. Let not mercy and truth forsake you.


So, how did you do? I saw things that I needed to stop doing immediately in order to stop rubbing people the wrong way.

I want to share this list with you so that you can also avoid these 21 bad habits as well.

Our goal is not to please everyone. That’s impossible. But it’s a biblical principle to avoid giving offense, as much as possible:

Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:32, NKJV).
We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed (2 Corinthians 6:3, NKJV).

May we all strive to learn and live real Christianity, by putting on the mind of Christ, who lived humbly and unselfishly.


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