Growing up I was always taught that when someone treats you poorly that you have to be the better person. It’s also what most religions seem to teach. I’ve never bought into that. Not even as a child. I always believed that actions should have consequences. Maybe it’s because, when I was a little kid, all my actions had consequences. If I stepped out of line, I was punished. Then my brother came along. He stepped out of line, but he didn’t always get punished. I, on the other hand, continued to be. I was older and was supposed to “know better.” After awhile, I thought his behavior was getting out of hand and I usually caught the flack for it even though I was behaving better than he was. So, no matter the consequence to me, I became a vigilante. I gave his bad actions “consequences.” Did I get in trouble a lot? For awhile, yes. Eventually, he shaped up. Miracle of miracles, we both started getting in trouble a lot less.
Now, you’re probably thinking that this type of situation is only applicable to children. I’ll agree that it tends to be worse with children, but children are just little people. What I experienced as a kid was just conditioning. Adults are just as susceptible to conditioning as children are. Imagine if every time you walked past your boss’ desk to go to the bathroom he yelled, “Haven’t you gone to the bathroom enough today?” You’d probably start holding it a lot longer, even if it wasn’t healthy for you to do so.
The same thing applies to people that treat you poorly or even bully you at work. If you let them treat you like that or try to respond back to their animosity with being nice and helpful, you’ll only reinforce their unacceptable behavior. This is something that I’ve seen firsthand and heard from others secondhand countless times. Some people are just nasty to everyone at work. When you respond to their nastiness with sweetness and try to win them over, they keep the nastiness flowing. Often, they focus their nastiness more on those that are nicest to them.
Why? That’s simple. If someone gave you a hundred dollars every time you smacked them, would you smack them every day? I don’t like hitting people, but even I might. Well bullies are self interested individuals as well. If you give them positive reinforcement for their nastiness, they will continue their nasty behavior.
Now, don’t get confused and think I’m advocating yelling at a nasty coworker. Some people are actually looking for a fight. Then you would be playing right into their hands. What I’m advocating is not giving the person the idea that their behavior is correct or, worse yet, desirable. If necessary, you might have to tell them that the way that they are treating you is not alright and you’re not going to tolerate it. How you handle the situation depends on your relationship with the offending person, your job and the overall work environment. Just remember that trying to tough it out isn’t necessarily the best thing for your health. It also probably isn’t going to solve your problem.