Whenever we engage in any type of human interaction, we are either directly or subconsciously teaching that person how to treat us. We communicate these messages to our spouse, children, friends, employers, business partners, clients and oftentimes even our next door neighbors. In each interaction, we are setting the tone for how we expect to be treated and we are also defining our boundaries. (Or lack of them) This explains why some of us are willing to draw the line in the sand at the first sign of disrespect or mistreatment, while countless other people allow themselves to be physically and emotionally abused. We are also setting an example that our children are likely to follow. For example, if mom allows dad to call her names or strike her, the son may assume that this is normal behavior between a man and a women. Later in life, he may model this same behavior with his wife. If on the other hand, the son observes the police taking his dad away in handcuffs, he may very well internalize the message that violence against women is not tolerated. Later in life, when disagreements with his wife arise, he is more than likely to engage with her in a non violent manner.
Here are 5 of the most common areas in which we have the opportunity to establish our ground rules of how we expect to be treated.
- Verbal abuse. Do we allow ourselves to be the brunt of jokes, the target of cut downs, put downs or even religious, sexual or racially insensitive comments? When they occur do we laugh, cry, just shrug it off or do we put our foot down and take a strong stand against the person who is verbally abusive? Our response to someone’s verbal abuse will either end it or accelerate it. Are we willing to use our voice and speak up when we know that something is inappropriate or do we prefer to remain silent?
- Physical abuse. Physical abuse toward women and children has almost become an epidemic. When physical abuse takes place, are we willing to remove ourselves and our children from the danger or do we attempt to justify the perpetrators behavior? “He or she is under a great deal of stress” is never a reason to allow physical abuse to happen to yourself or your children. Justification is often used by people who are afraid to establish clear cut boundaries surrounding physical abuse.
- Time. One of our most valuable assets is our time. We live in a fast paced world where each and every minute counts. Recently, a friend got quite upset with me. I had purchased two tickets to a sporting event and I offered one of them to him. We agreed that he would meet me at my house not later than 6:15pm, or sooner. He agreed. At 6:25 I made the decision to leave for the game which started at 7pm. (I later retrieved a voice mail at 6:40pm letting me know that he was at my house and he apologized for running “a little late”) I sold his ticket to a person standing in the ticket line and I enjoyed the game. My friend clearly understands the value that I place on punctuality and accountability.
- Our personal appearance. Our physiology, our speech, our manner of dress and our personal hygiene speak very loudly to those around us. For example, I have a female client who is very bright and attractive. She is having a very difficult time embracing “middle age”. When she “goes out,” she dresses in provocative outfits that are more appropriate for someone in their mid 20’s. She takes great pride in the fact that men half her age still “hit on her”. However, during a recent coaching session she bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t seem to attract any successful men that were closer to her age. (Possibly because she reminds them of their daughters?) Does anyone else see the incongruent message she is sending? Conversely, I work with a wealthy, male client who is also struggling to embrace middle age. Over the past few years, he has undergone a significant amount of plastic surgery and has become addicted to body building. He believed that by changing his appearance he would become much more attractive to younger women. In one of our recent coaching sessions, he admitted that his ideal mate would be someone around his age who had an established career and who desired to travel the world. He complained that the younger women that he was now attracting were only interested in a “sugar daddy”. In both cases, my clients are actually moving away from what they truly desire, due to the incongruent messages they are sending.
- In the working world. The majority of us spend at least 40 hours per week in our work environment. Our work environment can provide us with a wealth of opportunities to teach people how to treat us. Do we allow our boss to take advantage of our time by routinely expecting us to put in extra time without extra compensation? Do they ask us to come in on a Saturday without giving us adequate notice? If so, do we speak up or are we afraid that if we say something we will lose our job? Do we set boundaries around what are acceptable and what are inappropriate conversation topics with co-workers? How do we react when a co-worker, manager or boss directs a sexual comment or innuendo in our direction? How do we dress at work? Do we dress in a casual, provocative, conservative or disheveled manner? Your style of dress will have a significant impact on how you are treated by both your superiors and subordinates. The way we behave in company related social settings goes a long way toward how we are treated by management and even our fellow co-workers. Do we cut loose at happy hour or do we adhere to the “2 drink maximum” rule? Were we the star of last year’s Christmas party or do we interact in a professional manner? In every work related interaction we are teaching people how to treat us.
These are five of the more common areas in life in which we will have the opportunity to teach people how to treat us. If you want to be seen as someone who is reliable, be consistent in keeping your agreements. If you enjoy being the “life of the party” it is important to recognize that some people may be leery about placing you in a role of responsibility. If you value your time, don’t allow people to waste it. If you are struggling to find your ideal relationship partner then become who you desire to attract. If you find yourself in a physical or verbally abusive relationship, LEAVE! Again, we teach people how to treat us! We can effectively do this by setting boundaries and using our voice to let others know when they have encroached upon these boundaries. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations for how we desire to be treated. The sooner we determine what our expectations are, the sooner we can begin living our most authentic life.
I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.