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.
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.
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.
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.
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.