How Do You Become A Tougher Person?

Question:

How can you become a tougher person and not let people walk over you all the time? I have found throughout all my life that people always seem to badmouth me and treat me like I’m dirt. I am fed up of being treated this way, especially at work. I have been in a role for 11/2 years now and feel that things are starting to turn sour. I don’t feel like I have done anything to anyone. I always keep to myself and just do my work. Still I get badmouthed. What should I do? I haven’t really bonded with anyone. I do talk to some people but do not feel like I can trust them either fully.

Signed,

I’m Not Dirt


Answer:

DearĀ I’m Not Dirt:

No, you are not dirt and you know that. Have you observed the kind of tough person you would like to be; how that person walks, dresses, and talks? Is that really what you want; to be seen as tough? Or rather do you mean that you don’t want to be at the bottom of the ladder: that you don’t want to feel like you are on the fringes, that you don’t feel like belong, and that you don’t feel disliked by coworkers?

No matter where we work, each of us experience an up-down, in-out, and warm-cold feelings. We feel like dirt when we are so far down that people walk on and do not even step over us. We feel like dirt when we are so much on the fringe that nobody cares if we are there. We feel like dirt if we don’t like those we are with and they talk down to and about us. Form here, it is impossible to know why you feel like dirt and say others badmouth you. So I advise that you think of yourself as a detective for the next couple of weeks. Describe the details of a situation in which you are mistreated. What has occurred before? Who is involved? Who said or did something that caused you to feel mistreated? Where? When? Why? Did you do or not do something that provoked badmouthing? What you really are investigating is your and your coworkers’ job descriptions. Is there a misunderstanding of what is expected? Did a coworker order you to do something and you resent it?

Informally talk with someone you think is an honest person. Ask what you have done or failed to do that has led to badmouthing. For example, you might say, “Sam, I’ve been here for about a year and a half and I want to do a good job and to be liked. Do you know if my coworkers think I am doing my share?” Or you might refer to a specific incident in which you heard someone cuss you out or mumble to others about you. Don’t be obsessive about why you think you have been badmouthed, but an honest conversation with a coworker might open the door to being seen as a person with feelings. Don’t worry about bonding. You simply want to be seen as one who is respected.

Have you talked with your supervisor? Superiors are supposed to facilitate. They should be coaches that help you learn what is expected and who tell you and your coworkers how to work cooperatively. A boss can’t beg, borrow or promise to make you liked, but he/she can make verbal abuse unwelcome and can promote team cooperation.

Coaches don’t always know how to turn a work group into a team. Suppose your detective work led you to conclude that your work group would be so much happier and effective if it were a team. Might your work group be different if you saw yourself as a cheerleader of your coworkers? Might you feel less sour if you could find ways to make some of your coworkers jobs easier? Say thank you more often? Notice when someone does a good job and say, “Good job, Sam or Samantha.” Sports teams have skull sessions after every game to ask, “What went well and what do we need to do to do better? Seeing your work group as a team, even if it is only you sees your group that way, might transform that sour feeling in your gut to thinking in your head, “We gotta’ work with the team we have and I am a part of it.” Look in the mirror. You wrote, “I am fed up of being treated this way, especially at work.” That statement made me wonder if you also are not happy with your life outside of the workplace. Have you done a self-analysis to evaluate if you have skills or might need to get training that would make you more valuable to your employer or elsewhere? Do you have interests that make you more than a couch potato outside the workplace? Sometimes we come to see ourselves as victims and we sour on our work and life in general because we have been wounded by our earlier life; by family, teachers, or peers. The remarkable fact is that taking time out to look in the mirror can motivate us to become more assertive; to develop skills and interests, to say stop to those who bully and belittle, to volunteer to help others, such as volunteering for the Peace Corpse or for Habitat for Humanity. These thoughts alone can not make you tough, but hopefully they will prompt you to say as Max Ehrmann (1927) wrote in Desiderata, “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” They might help you to know that you are valued simply because you are alive, and can be more valued to the extent that you commit yourself to making a difference in your little circle of the world. They are words that should help you be tough enough to shed water that falls on your back and put put-downs down. I recommend that you examine your life and consider if you are just working at a job or if you are on a career path. Work is hard and sometimes we must do whatever we can to keep bread on the table and the wolf from the door. But we can survive that if we are working toward doing something that has meaning either on the job or outside of the job.

I wish that you might find love of work and play, friends and family. Ask the Workplace Doctors is our way of wishing the best for you tonight and tomorrow. My associate Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe joins me in this wish for you. If she had answered your question that is the way she would have concluded her advice. (Click on her name in our home page and you find her site overflowing with straight talk and inspiration.) My signature sentence is a bit different from hers and it should cause you to think how it applies to your situation: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. That is my wish for you and your work group. Do feel free to let me know if any of these thoughts make sense.

William Gorden