You Teach People How To Treat You.
Teach Them Well.
If it's true that you teach people how to treat you,
and it is, why not teach them well?
The stakes are pretty high in the workplace.
You've probably heard the saying "You teach people how to treat you." The first time I heard it, I thought to myself, "Really? Aw, damn." I preferred to think it was the other person's fault when I wasn't treated well. Now I know better.
It seems like an easy enough concept in principle. In reality, it's not that easy to wrap your brain around. You may think, "John is a jerk to everyone at work, and somehow I'm responsible? Susan is impossible to work with on every project, and I have to take responsibility for that?" I've wrestled my brain to find an example of someone I've met who treats everyone in the workplace - without fail - horribly. Even though I want to believe it's true, it isn't. Even bullies don't bully everyone.
People may have pre-determined thoughts about how they'll treat you before they even meet you. You'll never fully understand another person's assumptions about you. All you can know for sure is that from your very first interaction, you create a contract of sorts for how you'll work together. Thankfully, contracts get re-negotiated every day. Your relationships can be re-negotiated too.
You teach people how to treat you, whether you're actively trying or not. If you're not careful, you end up being treated poorly or in a way that doesn't serve your best interests. Why not teach others how to treat you well instead?
How do you teach people to treat you the way you want to be treated in the workplace?Teaching People How To Treat You
The ideas presented here will probably make perfect sense to you. My guess is that they'll also make you a little uncomfortable. Intellectually, we often know what we could do to improve a situation. Emotionally, though, we sometimes just don't do it. So today I keep it simple, in the hope that you find these concepts easy enough to start adopting... today. Right now. It's that important.
1. Stop being smaller than you are.
People generally treat you poorly when they view you as "small." What I mean by small is that you don't demonstrate a strong sense of self in the workplace. You may lack self-confidence or self-worth when interacting with others. You may lack the confidence to assert yourself in a group setting. You may be intimidated by certain situations. You may be uncomfortable around specific individuals, or people more senior than you, feeling that you need to allow others to dominate discussions. You may be concerned that you aren't liked or respected.
People sense when you feel this way and they view you as small, or unimportant. You'll be treated as small for as long as you allow it. This doesn't serve you well, because your value to the organization may be perceived lower than others who, frankly, may have far less to offer. If you "play" small, you'll be treated as less important in conversations, decisions, promotions and compensation reviews.
Buck up. Get very clear on your strengths and own the confidence that comes from knowing you provide value to your organization. Be respectful of seniority, but don't let yourself be intimidated by it. If someone makes you uncomfortable, pretend that they don't until they really don't.
Here's a trick to get you started: Imagine the other person scared and vulnerable in any life circumstance you choose; remember that they have the same range of emotions you do. They may just hide it better. This exercise evens the playing field. One more important to-do is to contribute to discussions when you have the opportunity. Make eye contact and own your space.
When you're hiking in the mountains, posted warning signs say to make yourself appear larger if you encounter a bear or a lion. Do exactly that in the workplace, just back it up with skill and talent. Know with confidence that you bring unique value to the workplace. In all cases, be relevant when you speak up and always be respectful toward others. For more on building your confidence, read this article.2. Model the behaviors you want mirrored back to you.
You can't expect people to treat you in ways that don't align with how you treat others. Teach people how to treat you by modeling how you want to be treated. If you're kind, you're much more likely to receive kindness in return. If you give others an opportunity to shine, you're much more likely to see it reciprocated. If you're professional and respectful in your interactions with others, you can expect it in return.
The best part of mirroring is that if you don't receive the same treatment in return from a co-worker, you can request it. (Or even demand it.) Here's an example: You can't very well complain in a meeting that John never listens to you, if you don't listen to him. But if you listen to John and he doesn't return the favor, you can say with full confidence, "John, I listened to everything you had to say. I heard you. I'd like to ask you to do the same for me and give me an opportunity to share my thoughts now." After a few times of resetting this behavior, it almost always self-corrects. Sometimes begrudgingly, but that doesn't really matter. All that matters is that you put yourself in a position to disallow others to treat you poorly. You lose this advantage if you behave poorly yourself.
Think about how you want to be treated. Start treating other people that way. If you want to be included, be inclusive. If you want to be respected, be respectful. If you want to be heard, hear others. If you want to be treated as a valued member of the team, value others while bringing your own value. You get the point. Be thoughtful about what really matters to you. And then be someone worthy of being treated well.3. Watch the company you keep.
My Mom used to tell me as I was growing up that I needed to watch the company I kept. I hated the advice, of course, but I understood her point. If you associate with people who are perceived in a given way, you'll be perceived that way too. Over the years, I've learned that this is an incredibly powerful psychology at play in the workplace. I've learned this, of course, by doing it right... and doing it wrong.
What's important in this context is that people form opinions of you based on how you align with other groups of people. If you associate with the smart, competent, committed people in your organization, you earn a degree of respect by association. You're treated a certain way because of that association. If you associate, on the other hand, with co-workers who do "just enough" to get by and aren't fully committed to their jobs, you risk being viewed in that same light. You have to work much harder to earn respect, because you have to overcome the pre-conceived notions of others based on your association.
I generally cast a wide net in the workplace and embrace people of all kinds. It's just my nature, I think based on moving every couple of years as a child. I assimilate with less judgment and selection than most people. I don't want to associate with only the smart and committed crowd, even though I clearly would put myself in that category. There's a price to be paid when you make that choice. The point: be conscious of your choices and make sure you're willing to live with the consequences. You may have to work harder to garner respect if you cast a wide net, and teach people how to treat you well despite their prejudices.
Run through the roster of people you associate with at work. Be aware of how others might judge you - based on your peer group, your social groups, your friendships, and your other associations in the workplace. You may need to make an extra effort to overcome judgments based on your choices. Try not to worry about whether judgment by others are right or wrong. Just focus on overcoming whatever judgments may exist by doing great work and achieving solid and consistent results. Go the extra mile, because it's important to your success. Teach people to treat you well regardless of your associations.4. Reset relationships that matter.
Sometimes showing confidence, modeling how you want to be treated, and watching your associations isn't enough to reset how you're treated in the workplace. You may have a long history that needs to be recast. You may need to explicitly change the dynamics of a particular relationship.
Your first step in resetting a relationship is to have total clarity on what matters to you and what you'd like to see change. Think of it as if someone asked you, "What would you like to see John do differently?" and be prepared with a very specific and reasonable response. Treat me like the superior being that I am is not a reasonable response, as an example.
It's important to stand firm about what's okay and what's not okay in your relationship... and why. If you can't articulate a specific request for change, keep at it until you can. If you're not being treated the way you want to be treated, how do you want to be treated instead? You have to teach the other person how to treat you differently.
First, prioritize the relationship that's most challenging to you. Second, be honest with yourself about whether you've really modeled the behaviors you want to see mirrored in return. Third, dig a little deeper. Assess whether you may be doing something, even something small, that's causing the other person to treat you the way they do. If yes, reset yourself before you try to reset the other person. If no, ask for ten minutes with the other person for a short discussion. Bring your full confidence to the meeting, but leave your soapbox at home.
Here's an example of how you can approach the topic: "John, I know how important it is for us to work well together. I'm confident that we can. I'm here because I'm struggling with one aspect of our interaction. I want to talk about how we can improve it. Specifically, when we _____, I feel _____. It impacts me because ______. I'd prefer to see _______ instead. It's important to me or I wouldn't ask. I'd like to press a reset button on how we interact."
You'd be surprised how often one conversation solves the problem. Other times, though, it won't. If the person agrees and then regresses, repeat the process. If the other person won't or can't demonstrate an ability to change, let them know that it's important enough that you're going to escalate and ask someone else to help you two reach an agreement. Then engage a trusted colleague, your boss, or your human resources person to assist. If your challenge is with your boss, the same process applies while being particularly focused on respecting your boss's authority. Remember that authority doesn't grant someone the right to treat you poorly or show disrespect.
Whatever you do, don't back down. If you're clear on what's important to you and why, including how it impacts your success in the organization, it's worth pursuing. Every single relationship in the organization sets the tone for the next. People look to others as they form their own opinions. Don't stop short of reaching an acceptable compromise.
Everything you say and do in the workplace teaches people how to treat you. If you want to be treated well, you have to work at it. Sometimes it seems easier to just let it be. Don't be tempted to do this if you're not comfortable with how you're being treated. You can improve any relationship, if you're willing to invest the effort. Relationships are critically important to your success in the workplace. For that reason, this is an investment worth making.
Your best bet to ensure you're treated well is to be confident and capable. Work on your confidence if it's lacking. Focus on your strengths and understand your value to the organization. You may have to fake it 'til you make it in the beginning.
Model the behavior you want to see mirrored back to you. You can't expect others to treat you in a way that doesn't align with how you treat them. Be aware that others form perceptions of you based partially on the company you keep, both in and out of the workplace. It's worth the effort to overcome any preconceived judgments that may come from your associations. Bring your talents to the table in every single interaction. Doing great work and achieving solid results goes a long way toward teaching others to treat you with respect.
If you can't improve an important relationship by demonstrating greater confidence, modeling your behavior, or working to overcome preconceived judgments, you need to address relationship challenges head-on. A direct, clear and compelling discussion can have a huge and immediate impact in most cases. A sustained effort and consistent consequences may be needed in others.
Teach people how to treat you well. Not just today, but every day moving forward. Do your part. You earn the right to be treated well by treating others well. Turn the mirror to others as needed, but only after you take an honest look at yourself.
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