You know the type. It’s the boss or client who can be so mean that you drop to your knees or fight back tears, but just when you think you can’t take another minute of this abuse, they turn on the charm and you’re left feeling hurt, confused and wondering if you’re just too sensitive. It’s crazy making!
In the movie, “The Iron Lady”, the former Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, is portrayed as a leader who often criticizes, embarrasses and humiliates the people she needs the most to be successful. In one scene, she tears a strip off of her right hand man in front of his colleagues. As the viewer, it was tough to watch and we felt his pain. It was no surprise when he resigned. If resigning isn’t an option, here are some tips to help you deal with your own Jekyll and Hyde.
1. Talk about it. I was coaching a client recently who was truly being treated badly by their employer. He wasn’t sleeping well and was trying so hard to please his employer that he was working around the clock, which was affecting his health and his personal relationships. He knew he was in a difficult situation but it wasn’t until he could actually talk about it, that he recognized the toll it was taking on his life and that he needed to take action.
Talking about a situation helps put it in perspective. Start with a confidante outside the workplace. Be specific and relate the situation and conversations as best you can. Having someone confirm that you are truly being treated with disrespect brings clarity and validates your feelings. Remember that there is no justifiable reason (even if you really mess up) to be treated with disrespect at work.
2. Take your power back. We all have our self image – how we want to be known and seen. This is out of our control. We also have our self concept – what do you believe about yourself? Now, this you can control. What do you know about yourself that is true? Are you a good person? Do you demonstrate your values, whatever they may be? When dealing with Dr. J and Mr. H remind yourself that you are so much more than the situation you’re in now. You are doing the best you can in a difficult situation. Focusing on your good qualities will empower you.
3. Don’t let your guard down. If someone has the capacity to treat you poorly once, they’ll do it again. People who have the capacity to hurt lack empathy and are incapable of understanding the impact they have on others. Beware of when they want to be your best friend. Your guard comes down and you leave yourself vulnerable because next time they lash out, it will hurt you even more. I had one client whose boss berated her in front of a large team and as the meeting was breaking up she invited her to lunch as if nothing had happened. Remember who you’re dealing with – someone who can hurt you, give you sleepless nights and not even notice or be remorseful.
4. Speak up. This can be difficult, especially if you’re conflict averse, but it’s important to push back when you’re treated badly. Wait until the time is right for you – when you’re feeling strong enough. You may want to try the SITUATION – BEHAVIOUR – IMPACT – REQUEST communication model (see below). Use it as often as you need to until the behaviour changes. It will get easier every time you speak up and the message you’re giving is clear; “I will not be treated this way, I deserve to be treated with respect regardless of the situation.”
Situation – Behaviour – Impact – Request Communication Model
Situation: Be specific and use facts to remind the person of the situation (e.g.: “Last Tuesday, in the status meeting …”). Don’t use generalities (e.g.: “When you criticize me in front of others…”)
Behaviour: Describe the behaviour and use a lot of detail – you’re trying to paint a picture. (e.g.: “Last Tuesday in the status meeting you constantly interrupted me and rolled your eyes when I made suggestions….”)
Impact: Share the impact the behaviour had on you or on others who were present (e.g.: “I felt belittled…”; “I felt you didn’t let me explain…”; “It appeared to me that the others were uncomfortable …”; “When you yell at me it doesn’t make me understand any better…”)
Request: State clearly what you’re requesting and don’t be vague. (e.g.: “In order for us to work more efficiently in the future I ask you to…”; “Please never yell at me again…”)
Use these tips and, hopefully, you’ll see less of Mr. Hyde and more of Dr. Jekyll.