When And How To Stand Up For Yourself
The current political, social, and business climate triggers my memories of being bullied as a child. It started every weekday morning as I waited for the bus down the street. The insults were usually about my eyes (slanted with bifocal glasses), my clothes (sweatpants), or my nature (quiet). I was an easy target.
One day I refused to go to school and confessed the pain to my mother. She marched over to the bus stop dragging me behind her. She gave them a piece of her mind, which did not sound so threatening in broken English. But they got the point. Then the isolation of being shunned set in. Until the next day.
As I got older, so did the bullies. And spotting them became less obvious. I eventually had to learn how to stand up for myself against my nature. Besides, my mom is technically retired.
Here’s the thing you have to remember: if you don’t say anything, the offender will assume you don’t mind. No response is a response. I used to tell my team all the time: we can’t fix what we can’t talk about.
But most mistakes are mindless. So sometimes it’s not worth the trouble. That’s really for you to decide, so consider:
- Is it worth the energy?
- Is this an outlier or a pattern?
- How important is this relationship?
- What is their mental state?
- What about your own?
Not every offense requires a full court press. Usually a simple aside asking “would you mind…” or “is everything all right?” or “I feel like…” is all that’s required. I tend to believe most people don’t intend to hurt others, but I’m fully aware that there are some people who do…
So here we go.
Refuse To Take The Blame, But Accept The Sting
Ignoring problematic behavior in the office makes it worse. I had an employee once who showed up chronically late to my 10am weekly status meeting. Yet, he had no problem getting into the office for another’s 9am meeting.
I tried to work with him and suggest other meeting times that might fit his schedule better. This was a mistake. I accepted the blame for his tardiness and refused to acknowledge the disrespect he was so blatantly showing me week after week.
In these situations, the reverse is needed. Their behavior is their own, but accept that it is affecting you without resistance. Pause and take a deep breath. The moment you stop denying your sensitivity is the moment you can actually do something constructive about it.
Make Fun Of Yourself
Humor is the best medicine. It breaks up a tense situation and allows you to say something without saying it.
Pull from your arsenal of personal experience. Everyone appreciates the humility it takes to poke fun at yourself. It doesn’t have to be witty or really funny, sometimes even cheesy works best.
For example, some of my favorite lines:
- That’s way above my pay grade.
- I wasn’t born with that gene.
- We have a situation. Beam me up, Scotty.
Open The Front Door
During college, I was a summer camp counselor for children struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Their excitement (good and bad) would get the best of them that they would forget what was happening altogether. Sound familiar?
We taught these super smart kids how to slow down, connect, and communicate with the rest of the world. This is the framework we taught on how to deal with conflict.
- Open – O is for Observation. Stick to the facts. For example, “I noticed you’ve been late to the status meeting for the past three weeks.”
- The – T is for Thought. “I think this behavior is disruptive.”
- Front – F is for Feeling. “I feel like you don’t want to be part of this team.”
- Door – D is for Desire. “I would like you to be on time going forward.”
Following this format helps organize your thoughts in the heat of the moment.
Bring It Back To The Business
There is advice all over the internet saying not to take workplace slights personally. It’s not personal, it’s business. I would tweak this a bit: it’s personal, but about the business.
Anytime you talk to anybody in everyday life – you are a person talking to another person. Of course you will be affected by their smiles, nods, and responses. You are only human, which is why talking out issues is so important.
The key at work is to emphasize the business implications. Tie their behavior to the bottom line. This takes the focus away from a perceived personal vendetta to a shared concern about the work. Even better if you can get the other person to engage in some brainstorming with you.
Manage The Backlash
Of course, none of the above may work. If you have exhausted all of the above, rest in that you tried your best. Some people just need an axe to grind to feel good about themselves. If you are the target, do what you have to do to protect yourself.
This could mean sharing with 1-2 trusted colleagues, talking to us, or calling a lawyer. I asked a priest once what to do if an organization keeps knocking you down. He said, “Sometimes, you just have to leave…I tell people to leave the Catholic church all the time!” And so it goes.
Standing up for yourself can force you to face some truths about yourself and your current situation. It is exhausting. But nobody else is qualified. You can do it.
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”