Leadership Strategy: Teach Others How to Treat You

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

Wow, what an impactful statement!  I came across this quote in Dr. Phil McGraw’s book, Life Strategies – Doing What Works, Doing What Matters.  One of his Ten Laws of Life is: We Teach People How to Treat Us.  A common understanding in “training” pets (or even, people!) is that rewarded behavior is repeated.  As I read through this chapter, I could see how this plays out in relationships.  This could be in your work relationships with peers, bosses or direct reports.  It can be in your personal relationships with significant others, family and friends.  If something is not working for you in a relationship, read on and perhaps, you will discover some tools to help you.

Here’s a big tip from Dr. Phil.  “Own rather than complain about how people treat you.  Learn how to renegotiate your relationships to have what you want.”  People learn from the results they get, so you shape the behavior of those with whom you interact.  Whether or not you accept, reward or validate their behavior, your choice influences their future conduct.  How you interpret and react to their behavior determines their future behavior, ie, if they’ll repeat it or try something different. 

Simply put, reward the behavior you like and desire. For example, your direct report gets a project done well and within the deadline.  Atta boys are in order. If your significant other plans a lovely evening out, show appreciation and gratitude.

It’s a little trickier if people are treating you in an undesirable way.  You need to figure out what YOU are doing to reinforce, elicit or allow this treatment.  A simple example would be your partner or teenager agreed to put the trash out on Mondays but doesn’t do it so you do.  Guess what happens next Monday?  If someone is aggressive, bossy or controlling with you, and it works, meaning they get their way, you have rewarded them for unacceptable behavior.  Whatever you’re allowing someone to “get away with,” the very act of that tolerance is a subtle but significant payoff to them.  Take a minute to think about what may be going on in situations of concern to you.

In learning to renegotiate your relationships to have what you want, first look at yourself and acknowledge your responsibility.  How do you need to be or think differently? It is often a good idea to have a discussion with the person before you reset boundaries and behaviors.  Be prepared for resistance as people get comfortable and don’t want to change.  Remember the payoffs and your role in that.  Be strong and consistent.  (Remember dog training tips!)  Watch out for the guilt weapon so you don’t get manipulated or paralyzed.  Teach others how you want to be treated!

A final point: what are people in your life letting you get away with?  Have they taught you it’s ok to coast in your relationship or your work? Or that treating them with less respect and dignity is OK?  Be willing to take your own inventory if you’re going to look at others.  Remember the golden rule!