Teach People How to Treat You

You have probably heard this or some version of this statement prior to reading this, but have you implemented it? Have you taught someone how to treat you?

Until very recently, I had not implemented this rule into my life. Do you know what happened when I started teaching people how to treat me? All those things they say about what happens when a woman stands up for herself are true. People saw me as a bitch, as aggressive, even though I never yelled. Despite the fact that I communicated respectfully, even when conversations became heated, those I was “teaching how to treat me” did not respond well.

Image by Mick Haupt

Some individuals chose to ignore me, so I left those people alone. Some individuals lashed out at me. To be honest, it has been unpleasant and scary at times. People react differently to change, and some don’t take it well at all; however, the people who truly care about me didn’t bat an eye.

Because I had not previously taught people how to treat me, I didn’t handle every situation perfectly, and I didn’t always take it well when people responded poorly to my decision not to be a doormat. For anyone who has not stood up for themselves though, please know that none of these interactions were really that bad. One person cried, and that was really the worst reaction.

It is important to note that—sometimes—when we course-correct, we often over correct, meaning we swing too drastically the other way. For example, I have had some experience with workplace bullying. When I encountered a very rude coworker, I addressed the behavior. She completely ignored my attempts to resolve the matter. I reached out to management. They also refused to address the matter. The company did not have an HR department, so I did not elevate the situation. I instead chose to end the working relationship, and some people were upset about it, but I was teaching them that I don’t tolerate bullying. …this was a strong reaction… Other people might not care as much if someone treats them badly, but I am not going to tolerate it.

Image by Shruti Vohra

As I think back on the incident, I wonder if I overreacted. As women, we are socialized to please others and to be agreeable, as Jordan Peterson would say. When I reflected on this incident, I wondered to myself if I would evaluate the situation differently if I were the CEO of a company—I am the CEO of my own life, after all—and I realized that, as a CEO, I would not have tolerated the behavior, so my reaction was very appropriate. Some people think it is okay to treat others who are ‘lower’ on the status scale badly or not as well as they would treat someone ‘above’ them. This thinking is highly flawed. No one should treat another person badly. Period.

Is it arrogant to treat myself like a CEO? I don’t think so. My current CEO recently said she would not subject her employees to working conditions that she herself would be uncomfortable working in. My CEO recognizes that all people should be treated fairly. We still need to follow lines of authority, but we should not allow ourselves to be treated less than what a CEO would tolerate.

Albert Einstein said, “The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.” Evil begets evil the same way success begets success and incompetence begets incompetence. It is our job to pursue excellence in ever endeavor. If someone treats you poorly, you have an obligation to stand up to it, to disallow people from treating you badly; otherwise, you are putting the world in greater peril by tolerating bad behavior.

Note: Some people are forced into to situations or cannot easily get out of certain situations. A person in this situation is not putting the world in danger or allowing themselves to be treated poorly. This pertains to people who have a choice.

I am not saying that all bullying or incompetence in general are evil. What I am saying is that the same principle holds true. Your company is in greater danger when you allow incompetence to thrive than it is when any external source actively attempts to take business away from your company.

Think about it. If you allow incompetence to thrive in your company, you create a culture that will be very difficult to change, more difficult than overcoming external roadblocks.

To be clear, I am not proposing that anyone should yell or commit violence in any way. When I confronted my coworker, I never told her that she was incompetent or rude. I called to her attention that she used blunt language that was inappropriate in the workplace. Additionally, the errors she had introduced to my work and given to the client were unacceptable. We are professionals and wanted both of us to be held to a high standard.

Image by SHVETS

In recent years, women have been exposed to the idea that men often apply and get jobs they do not fully qualify for. This messaging can be misleading. Just because men have created a certain discernable pattern that has worked well for them in the past, does not make the behavior leading to this pattern acceptable or appropriate. Women do undersell themselves and believe they are less qualified, so my statement does not negate the fact that women need to cultivate more confidence in their abilities (myself included); however, women should not lower standards to apply the same behavior men have applied. This is also not to say that men have lower standards. It is to say that our society has let some bad behavior thrive unchecked.

I know of several situations where men received jobs for which they were underqualified. These situations often lead to poor performance. The institutionalized structures around these men and perceived confidence of these men are what keep them in these undeserved positions. Women may not have these institutionalized structures that help us succeed—and this may hinder women’s success—but it is also an opportunity for us to raise the bar.

What does this have to do with teaching people how to treat you? First of all, you determine what you will and won’t tolerate. In previous posts, such as this one – Why I Left My Corporate Job, I discussed why I left my job. This is an example of standing up for myself, communicating to the world what I will not tolerate. Again, I never yelled or behaved disrespectfully. I simply called attention to certain things that were said and done that were inappropriate. If every person decided to quit working for a bully, guess what? No one would work for a bully. We underestimate the power we have, especially when we partner with other people to pursue a common goal.

Evy Poumpouras, ex-secret service agent, gave examples of how she behaved in a way that taught others how to treat her. You can watch the interview here:

What I like about Evy’s approach is that she always communicates very respectfully. She never yells or calls someone out in front of other people. She also demonstrates how one person can own their own power. As women, we are not taught to view ourselves as powerful, but we are.

You can stick up for yourself and teach people how to treat you respectfully. This doesn’t mean people will react well. In my case, they reacted very poorly—which certainly had something to do with my execution because I have little practice standing up for myself—but that doesn’t mean I failed or should stop teaching people how to treat me.

During this time, I am also learning the difference between teaching people how to treat you and defending yourself. There are many instances where people will attack you—verbally—and while your first reaction might be to defend yourself, the more appropriate action is to walk away or say nothing. (If someone is attacking you physically, please try to get out of the situation as fast as possible and certainly defend yourself. I am not giving advice for what to do if someone attacks you physically.)

In most cases, when someone verbally attacks you, your best course of action is to ignore what was said. Act as though it had no impact on you. Of course, what others say to or about us does have an impact, so in future, you may want to avoid spending time around this person. If you work with this person, you may have to work with HR or wear earbuds at work. Find a way to ignore someone who treats you badly first; then move to more drastic measures.

Image by Armin Rimoldi

But defending and explaining yourself is something a guilty person does to try to convince others of their innocence. Do not do this! If people ask you about your experience, tell them calmly and stick to the point. Do not elaborate and explain why you performed each little action. You are not guilty when someone verbally bullies, attacks, or slanders you. Stay calm and set boundaries.

Why I Left My Corporate Job

Julie Roberts said, “Life is like a movie to me. Everybody has their own movie that’s playing out every day, and you’re writing it.”

I love this quote because it reminds me that my life is the most interesting movie I will ever watch—partly because I know the finer details of my own life. The story of my life, when I reminisce, can either seem dull or exciting, depending on how I frame it. I imagine the same goes for every person.

Image by Samuel Regan-Asante

Framing one’s own life is so important because life rarely goes the way you think it will. I thought to myself, just the other day, my life has not gone the way I expected it go once, and it’s true. I never would have imagined myself living this life, doing the things I’m doing now.

For example, I am divorced. I thought I would never get a divorce, let alone a year into the marriage, but that is what happened. The divorce is where this story begins—the story of why I quit my corporate job.

Once I had decided to leave my then husband—or rather my husband told me he preferred to maintain his current lifestyle instead of our marriage—I moved back home. The employer I worked for prior to moving to my husband’s home state requested I come back to work for him. I needed a job, and since I had worked for this employer before, it felt like an easy choice.

It was arranged, before I even fully moved back home, that this company would hire me, immediately upon my return. The job title discussed was Professional Technical Writer because my degree is in English with an emphasis in Professional and Technical Writing.

On my first day back at work, just four days after moving back in with my parents, an offer letter was set down on the table in front of me. There was just one problem: The job being offered to me was not the one we had discussed. The job title on this offer letter said, “Test Engineer.” This raised a small red flag in my mind, but I was so preoccupied with my divorce and the fact that I needed to soldier on—I needed to make money to support myself—I said nothing and signed the offer letter anyway.

This is arguably where the issues with this job began. Note to readers: Never take a job with a title that makes you uncomfortable. The second problem occurred during the first project I was tasked with. The first project I had as a test engineer was acquired not long before my hire date. This project was in support of an external company, and it was continually sabotaged. For example, I scheduled a meeting with this client and my boss to discuss the status of the project. My boss knew about the meeting, but missed it entirely because he was taking a flying lesson instead.

To put it lightly, the project was poorly managed. To make my situation worse, it was requested of me that I refrain from sharing my true credentials with anyone, meaning, my employers did not want the external company to know that they hired an induvial with an English degree to manage an engineering project better suited to a senior engineer. This probably came down to not wanting to spend additional money to hire the appropriate person to fulfill this role, but that is only my assumption.

At the close of this project, I began another project. This time, thankfully, the project involved work related to my professional background—writing. Prior to the kickoff of this project, however, my employers sat me down and explained that they would be hiring a proposal manager. Guess who this person was? My employer’s current flight instructor and girlfriend.

The pair always denied the rumors that they were dating, but they were caught multiple times going out to dinner together. They took a romantic trip to South Dakota, going so far as showing me and my other coworkers the photos from this trip. It was additionally confirmed that this woman spent the night at my employer’s house. Maybe none of these things would be problematic if this individual had any prior experience with proposal management—or any type of management—of which she had none.

Very quickly, this individual became the office bully, recognizing her power as the girlfriend of the CEO. No one could complain to management because she was dating the management. Crazy.

Image by David Taffet

This image literally describes what I endured…

Relationships throughout the office deteriorated quickly due to the presence of this individual for numerous reasons. She bullied me severely to the point at which I developed a slight case of PTSD, later documented by the company’s HR director. She made enemies with everyone.

Eventually, the company struggled to function with her presence. The CEO had unofficially—or maybe officially—broken up with this individual. She was slowly pushed and controlled further to prevent her from causing any more damage until she finally decided to leave the company and return to flying.

She wasn’t the first person to leave the company. Several other people had begun to leave, perhaps due in part to the company’s deteriorating culture. One individual left because she had overheard a conversation about herself. This conversation was held in the room attached to her office, allowing her to hear most of the conversation. The conversation was between an executive and her direct supervisor, and they were discussing how to let her go. Professional—I know.

The company’s culture declined steadily, beginning with the hiring of the CEO’s girlfriend, but certain other incidents further solidified the shift in culture.

Shortly after the girlfriend quit—maybe about two weeks after she left—my boss began tightening his control on the workplace. Was he bored? A camera was installed pointed directly at my desk, and it quickly became clear that my boss had recruited one of my coworkers to begin collecting information about me and passing it along to my boss. The day I caught my coworker passing information to my boss, I drafted my resignation letter. The next day, I handed in my resignation.

You may be wondering why I am telling this story. It sounds like gossip. I’m sharing this story because we often think bad things only happen to other people—in movies.

While I was still in college, one of my professors showed a film from the ‘80s. In this film, women reported the way they were treated in the workplace. One of these women explained how she found out her boss was spying on her: He had installed hidden cameras in her office. I remember thinking to myself that no one would ever do that to me. I always worked for good people. Even if those people sometimes disliked me, I always worked for good people.

Well, it did happen to me. It can happen to anyone. I never thought I would get divorced, I never thought I would live on the East Coast, I never thought my boss would spy on me, and yet, all these things came to pass.

We live in an uncertain world. It’s important to keep your resume current; it’s important to have a sizeable emergency savings fund; it’s important to have more than one stream of income.

Image by Jon Tyson

Never assume, after reading my story, or watching a film, that these bizarre and unlikely events will not happen to you. In fact, if you think about it, I’m sure you can list several events of equal or greater impact that happened to you.

This truly is the principle behind an emergency savings fund. When I quit my job, I had three months of living expenses saved. While many experts will tell you to have six months—and now that I have relied on my emergency savings account, I strongly agree—building in safety measures for your life will help you weather the inevitable storms life will throw your way.

Be prepared. You are the director of your own movie, so be intentional about what you write.

What is a Modern Woman?

Yesterday, I had the unfortunate experience of having my work edited by an editor who has less experience as a writer/editor than I do. As a professional technical writer, I can be more critical than the average writer. This editor, much to my dismay, added grammatical errors instead of correcting them.

But her lack of attention to detail is not the purpose of this post. (She’s probably a nice person who has many friends.) I’m asking about the definition of a modern woman because, as this incident with my editor was unraveling, I felt guilty. Yes, I FELT GUILTY.

Why did I feel guilty? Obviously, I started questioning my self-worth and wondering if I really am a terrible writer. This is a typical spiral for me, as it is for many people – it’s a downward spiral that I no longer have time to indulge in, so I stopped myself and thought about what I really felt underneath all these self-doubting questions. The answer came quickly: Guilt. Then, I began to wonder why I would feel guilty for someone else’s mistakes. In this particular situation, the editor was chosen by another individual, so I can’t even take the blame for selecting this person to edit my work.

This morning, as I started journaling at my kitchen table, hot coffee nearby, I realized that I don’t have the answer as to why I feel guilty about the situation. It also occurred to me that it was ludicrous to think I had enough control in the universe to take the blame for everything that happens in my life. Then I thought about some of the women I aspire to be like. Would they feel guilty for something outside of their control? Of course not.

From this point, I began to think about the definition of a modern woman. Was I acting like a modern woman when I was wallowing in my guilt? No. Have I really defined the phrase “modern woman” so that I know how to behave like one?… sort of, but not really.

The easiest way for me to define something is by using examples, so I have thought of some good examples:

First, I am obsessed with Kelly Rutherford’s character, Lily van der Woodsen, in Gossip Girl (the 2007 version). I used to feel annoyed with myself for watching this show because it doesn’t feel very “modern woman,” and it is slightly off brand for me. When I started thinking about why I watched this show, it occurred to me that I was always hoping to see more of Lily van der Woodsen. Why? Lily van der Woodsen never defended herself and never cared about what other people thought about her. She took care of herself and her family and focused on her own life.

Of course, this character had many flaws, such as the means of obtaining her independence, but I love that she always moved through her world with effortless grace and calm. She always made decisions that aligned with her values and never let anyone’s opinion of her influence her actions.

Second, Lorelai Gilmore, played by Lauren Graham, embodies a modern woman. Similarly to Lily van der Woodsen, she doesn’t spend time thinking about what others think about her. Lorelai focused on her own life, her own career, and her own family. Another characteristic that I love about Lauren’s character is that she blooms where she is planted. She loves her small town and her home and her job. She was never concerned with being famous or changing careers because she felt insignificant.

From these two examples, I can compile a list of characteristics a modern woman should embody:

  1. A modern woman focuses on what she can control. She focuses her time and energy on her own life as opposed to being overly concerned with what other people say and do.
  2. A modern woman is independent. She makes her own money (or at least manages it appropriately) and she builds her life using her own skill.
  3. A modern woman betters herself, but always maintains patience and kindness towards herself. She does not beat herself up for her mistakes. She accepts her mistakes and keeps moving forward.
  4. A modern woman finds happiness, peace, and contentment exactly where she is. She does not feel the need to be like someone else in order to be happy.
  5. A modern woman does not spend time trying to shape the perspective other people have of her. She focuses her attention on the individual interactions that take place in her day to day life.
  6. A modern woman is proud of herself. She thinks highly of herself and takes pride in her accomplishments without being arrogant or considering herself better than others.
  7. A modern woman enjoys her life, taking the time to appreciate what she has instead of focusing on what she does not have.
  8. A modern woman strives to make her life and the lives of her loved ones better. She is not self-centered. She takes care of the people in her life while maintaining healthy boundaries.
  9. A modern woman is confident. She moves through her life with self-assuredness that comes from giving herself the freedom to experience life.
  10. A modern woman is not fearful. She is open to new ideas and experiences and does not feel threatened when something upsets the current course of her life.

For more information about what it means to be a modern woman, read this post by Keishel Williams:

https://notesbykw.com/2021/07/07/traits-of-a-modern-classic-woman/

Keishel beautifully describes qualities of a modern woman who embraces her whole self, her femininity and her more “masculine” characteristics, such as ambition.

After thinking about these qualities of a modern woman, I am allowing myself not to worry about the outcome of my disastrous editing experience. Instead, I will focus on embodying these characteristics. As a modern woman, this bad experience does not define me, and it is not my job to monitor what people think of me.

Thankfully, this frame of mind allows me to refocus my attention to the activities that add value to my life and the lives of those around me.