Dear SOTGC Community,
Do you sometimes get infuriated by the way a co-worker treats you?
When this happens, we waste energy in frustration, when we could be putting it toward creating the best work we can. No one likes to see their time and talents wasted on drama.
Relationships are the backbone of nearly everything we do. When respect isn’t there, our work will suffer. It’s easy to think we have no control over how others treat us. And it’s true that we can’t control the opinions of other people.
But if we look closely, we can discover that our behavior trains people how to relate to us. I encourage you to switch perspectives, from one of relative powerlessness and frustration to one of curiosity and responsibility, so that you can begin to create the relationships you do want.
Start teaching the people around you how you’d like to be treated. After you recover from feeling shocked and appalled by poor treatment, return to the notion that people are doing their best, and that more information would help them do better. Then give them that information.
Here are six behaviors you can practice to train people in what to expect from you, and what you expect from them:
- Speak directly about what is okay and not okay with you.
This is often harder than it sounds for those of us who shy away from conflict, but it gets easier with practice.
When someone crosses our boundaries, our first reaction can be shock. We might have a strong emotional reaction to being hurt, threatened, or offended. In that reaction, we quickly turn to judgment of the other person, and feel justified.
That’s where drama comes in. Interacting from this place will take you into blame, which will escalate drama rather than repel it. So make sure to do your part: recover emotionally first, then take action to correct the situation.
When you make a clean decision to create the kind of relationships you want (without the sting of accusation or judgment), you can directly state what is okay with you and what’s not. Think of it as helping the person to gain understanding, and laying the groundwork for productive interactions in the future.
For example, if a coworker takes credit for your work, under what circumstances is that okay with you and in which situations is it not okay? Make your preference known. “I want you and our team to look good, especially when there’s a lot to brag about. But it’s not okay with me that you didn’t credit me. Next time you I’d prefer if you did.”
If the situation is truly offensive, or unacceptable, take charge. Let the person know you’re initiating an important conversation. In it, create an agreement for moving forward and check for understanding. You are in charge of communicating your boundaries at all times.
- Painstakingly observe how you treat yourself.
Are you the kind of person who accepts so much extra responsibility with a smile on your face that you work through your vacations?
If so, you’ll be known as the person who is won’t say no. People won’t respect your time because you don’t respect your time. They will learn from you what your relationship to time is, and your actions tell them you love to work, and you don’t mind skipping vacation.
There is a difference between being a hard worker and being a doormat.
Take responsibility for how you treat yourself. Practice self-awareness, by stopping to look honestly at your decisions, every time you feel frustrated, unhappy, overextended, powerless, etc. “How might I have unintentionally created this?” “Am I acting out of self-care and self-respect? Am I taking care of my own needs?”
Try keeping a journal for a week. Every evening, reflect on how you wish you were treated by others. Then brainstorm all the ways you treat yourself this way, and all the ways you don’t. Are you giving yourself just as much acknowledgment, love, acceptance or pep talks as you wish someone else would? Because you should.
It may sound goofy, but treating yourself the way you wish others would treat you is revolutionary. When you realize how much control you have in creating your own happiness and wellbeing, your life will change.
The point is, people respect people with self-respect. The more you own your power, the more people will respect it.
- When you want something, say it out loud.
I hear this all the time, from my married girlfriends (and I’ve heard myself say it too): “He should know without my having to spell it out.”
Well, he doesn’t. I know it’s almost inconceivable, but it’s true. You do have to spell it out. And the clearer you make it, the more chances of success you give him. That’s a win-win.
This is a good rule of thumb for all relationships, not just your intimate ones. If you’re going to take the lead, take lead. Leaders want things. Susan B. Anthony didn’t say “What do you think of the idea of women being able to vote?” That’s because she wasn’t wondering what the establishment thought. She wanted the right to vote.
Be transparent. People don’t know what you want until you tell them. And when you do tell them, it makes it that much easier for them to work with you. Clear expectations create safety. Leaders who aren’t afraid to speak directly and transparently earn trust.
Say what you want by starting with the words: “I want…”
“I want you to come up with an alternative solution.”
“I want this on my desk by the end of the day.”
“I want us to work better as a team.”
“I want to clear something up.”
“I want honest feedback so I can learn.”
Sometimes, what you want isn’t simple, or guaranteed. But you still want it. So say that you want it. Then follow that statement with a question showing your willingness to create it:
“I want to be enter x role by the year xxxx. How can I make that happen?”
“I want to take on more of this kind of work. What possibilities do you see for me?”
“I want to share my ideas with you about where we’re headed. Would you be willing to meet over lunch?”
Watch your language. Don’t say one thing and mean another, because you think it’s more polite. In fact it’s confusing, and it creates work for people.
- Call out the elephant in the room.
Picture this: you just had to fire someone on your team, and now you’re in a team meeting. What’s the space like? It’s filled with fear. No one is talking about what everyone is thinking.
That’s an elephant in the room, and you need to speak to it, right away. You don’t even need a plan how to handle it. But you do need to get the conversation started. Acknowledging it alone, when done for the sake of everyone, will make people feel seen and respected.
When something happens that changes the mood, scares people, or is so awkward everyone’s holding their breath, it will bleed into their interactions. You don’t want unspoken thoughts, feelings, gossip, anger, or fear going underground. That energy gets destructive fast. Call it out right away, and direct it somewhere meaningful.
Naming the thing everyone is avoiding takes courage, and it shows commitment and responsibility. If you do it for the sake of shifting to a more positive focus, you’ll be doing everyone a favor.
When people know you’re looking out for them, and you’re willing to brave a little awkwardness or suffering for the sake of the group’s success, they’ll learn what you’re made of. It’s hard not to respect that.
- Channel Michell Obama.
“When they go low, we go high” is what Michell Obama said at the DNC, referring to how she taught her daughters to respond to poor treatment.
If you want to repel drama, be oblivious to it. Don’t get involved in petty gossip, and let people know you’re not interested in conversations that create drama.
And since life can be undeniably dramatic, when it comes to you, process setbacks and complicated situations with trusted thought partners in private. Never vent into the air, to anyone who will listen. Clean up your mood in your own time, and return to work clear-headed and ready to handle what’s next.
Even when you are enraged and feel justified, don’t feed the beast of drama. Be the one to reframe what’s happening, and take responsibility for creating the outcomes you want. Refocus. Put your energy toward something ultimately positive.
Learn to sense other people’s tendency to go low, and steer clear. Give them all the space they need to create own reality and live in it, however dreadful you think it is. You stay focused on creating (and enjoying) yours.
Over time, you’ll develop a reputation as a particularly bad person to go to with unproductive stories and gossip. And voila. Drama repelled.
- Always, always, take responsibility for what is yours.
It’s natural to want to hide your flaws, or run for the hills when you’ve messed up big. But those failures are not only your biggest opportunities to learn, they’re also your chance to prove your trustworthiness and integrity.
The more you decide to learn in front of others, the more you will reveal about your character. It takes courage and sturdy self-esteem. This means: acknowledging your disappointment or failure, forgiving yourself and others, recovering focus, discovering how to correct what’s wrong, sharing what you’ve learned, and making a new commitment based on your insights.
You will feel vulnerable, for sure. But that vulnerability doesn’t indicate a problem. It’s a sign of courage, and the learning you do- not to mention the commitment you model- will benefit everyone.
Always clean up your messes, but at the same time, if that mess is with someone who is committed to keeping a negative opinion about you despite your best efforts to make peace, let them have their opinion. It reflects their decision, and it has nothing to do with you. In other words, don’t take responsibility for what isn’t yours.
Consider that while it may be uncomfortable, showing courage in the workplace also shows respect. Your actions alone, because they give others permission to get real, may shift the tone of your work environment into more transparency and trust.
In short, respect begets respect. It raises the bar for all. I call that leadership.
I know I want more respect in this world. You may too. I want you to take 5 minutes to share this article right now, with anyone who you think might benefit from it, because respect is something we all create, and we can create it together.
(See what I did there?)