I’m OK – You’re Not OK

I have made an observation after listening to people vent about problem individuals at work or at home. It seems most people have a rather long list of things that other individuals must do to improve but a rather short list of things they need to change in their own behavior. I guess it is human nature to excuse or rationalize one’s own shortcomings while focusing on the obvious improvement needs of others. Since nearly everyone practices this little deception, the world must be rife with almost perfect people who wish the other people around them would shape up. Hmmm – something is wrong with this picture? Here are a dozen tips that can change the pattern for you. Print them out and post them at work. Feel free to add some more concepts if you wish.

Tip #1 – Reverse the Roles.

The other day a student was venting about a particular individual who was a major challenge at work. The student described in gory detail several behavioral things the other person constantly did that drove him up the wall. I asked him to write an analysis about himself from the perspective of that other person. In other words, what would the other person tell me about him if he had the chance. That brought the student up short, and he admitted it would be a rather humbling exercise to do.

Tip #2 – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

It is a well known fact that most married couples fight over the little things that become habitual annoyances on a daily basis. The position of the toilet seat is a great example. How come I can never get my wife to leave the toilet seat up? It is not the 401K account that most couples argue about daily, it is who gets the remote control, or why the toothpaste tube is always topless. So, if we can just remember that the small stuff is really just that, then maybe we can relax a bit.

Tip #3 – Live and let Live.

If a cubicle mate hums when she is happy, it is no reason to have a coronary over it. This is her outlet and way to be cheerful. Even though it curdles your skin when it goes on and on, why burst her balloon by pointing out her “problem”? If it is an unconscious habit, she will never be able to control it anyway. Simply buy a pair of noise canceling head phones and play the kind of music you like. Let a happy person be happy or a miserable person be miserable. Focus your energy on creating your own sphere of cheerfulness rather than trying to change the rest of the world.

Tip #4 – Punch Out Early, Don’t Punch Out the Person

Find some way to get away from the petty squabbles before they bring you to the snapping point. If you cannot actually leave without penalty, it does not stop you from mentally checking out. Just go for a little vacation in your mind. Actually imagine smelling the giant pines if you love to hike. Feel the frost on your cheeks if you like to ski. Taste the chocolate chip cookie if you like to eat, or how about a relaxing hot tub while sitting at your desk? Imagining happier places has kept many POWs alive for years; the same technique can keep you sane until 5 o’clock.

Tip #5 – Share a treat

Just because someone drives you nuts by clipping his nails in the morning is no reason to hate him all day long. Find some symbolic olive branch and waive it around. Go get two chocolate bars and give him one. Bring him in a bag of his favorite flavor of coffee. By extending kindness, we get kindness in return. Usually people know what they do that drives us crazy. If we change our body language rather than keep festering about “their problem” and learn to accentuate the positive, then the other person will likely respond in kind.

Tip #6 – Extend Trust

The reciprocal nature of trust says that you can improve another person’s trust in you by extending more trust to him or her. When we build up a higher account balance of trust, the petty issues seem to melt away because we are focused on what is good about the other person rather than idiosyncrasies that drive us bonkers. The best way to increase trust is to reinforce people who are candid with us about our own shortcomings. That takes emotional intelligence to do, but it works wonders at improving relationships.

Tip #7 – Don’t Complain About Others Behind their Back

Speak well of other people as much as possible. The old adage “if you cannot say something nice about someone don’t say anything” is really good advice. When we gripe about others when they are not present, a little of the venom always leaks out to the other person, either directly or indirectly. Never make a joke about another person at his or her expense. I wise old pastor taught me that rule 40 years ago, and it is a great rule. If a person is doing something that really bothers you, simply tell him or her in as kind a way as possible why you find the action irritating.

Tip #8 – Stop Acting Like Children

The lengths people go to in order to strike back at others for annoying them often takes on the air of a food fight in grade school. Escalating e-mail notes are great examples of this phenomenon. I call them e-grenade battles. It is easy to avoid these squabbles if we simply do not take the bait. When you find yourself going back and forth with another person more than three times, it is time to change the mode of communication. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall for a chat.

Tip #9 – Care About the Other Person

If we really do care enough to not get bent out of shape over little things, then we can tolerate inconveniences a lot better. What we get back from others is really a reflection of the vibes we put out ourselves. If we are feeling prickly and negative reactions from others, we need to check our attitude toward them. While it is convenient to blame them, often we are the cause of the negativity: they are simply a mirror.

Tip #10 – Picture the other person as the most important person in your life

If all else fails, try to remember that life is short and to expend energy bickering and griping about others really wastes your most precious resource – your time. How much better it is to go through life laughing and loving than griping and hating. We do have a choice when it comes to the attitudes we show other people. Make sure your choice enriches others as well as yourself.

Tip#11 – Have your own personal development plan

Start out each day with a few minutes of meditation on how you want to present yourself better to your co-workers. Have a list of areas you are trying to improve on. This mindset crowds out some of the rotten attitudes that can lead you to undermine other’s actions all day. Create a list of your personal improvement areas and work on them daily.

Tip #12 – Follow the Golden Rule

Finally, the famous Golden Rule is the most positive way to prevent petty issues from becoming relationship destroyers. By simply taking the time to figure out how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, you will usually make the right choice for building and preserving great relationships.

8 Responses to I’m OK – You’re Not OK

  1. Jamie Ross says:

    Great article and 12 great tips. Your intro is spot on, everyone can see things they would like others to do differently, and yet all of us think that we have very few (if any) things in need of changing.

    Could it really be possible that everyone else has behaviour flaws and we are unique? Very very unlikely.

    I believe the most poweful skill a person can have is empathy, which I’d define as standing in the other person’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective and consider their history and experiences. If everyone did this just a tiny bit more, the world would be a marvellous place.

  2. Janice van Reyk says:

    Thanks Robert. Am abundance of practical wisdom.

    • Well presented, Robert. Simple, yet powerful truths. We create our own happiness or sadness in our own minds, and blame it on someone or something else! I am believer in the law of attraction – you attract in life what you think and believe in.

  3. John Gebhardt says:

    Bob, your article compelled me to dust off my own list, created from experiences as a friend, relative, colleague, counselor and client:

    10 Simple Rules for Adult Behavior

    1. Focus on what you can do, not what you cannot. Think of all the time and energy wasted on things we have no control over: the weather, the economy, international relations, a lousy boss, poor choices made by loved ones. Then imagine what could be accomplished if we channeled that energy into the things we can influence: our physical well-being, retirement savings, charity, job performance, relationships with others. If you are not completely satisfied with a situation, ask yourself, “What can I do about it? If I can’t control it, how can I positively influence it?” Your answers will guide your actions. Then if there is nothing you can do to change it, let it go; accept it. You don’t have to like it, but don’t let it drag you down, either.

    2. You are responsible for your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You control your thoughts. You determine your feelings. You decide on your own actions. Nobody can make you think, feel or do anything you don’t agree to. If someone says something that “makes me angry”, it is not because of their words; it’s because you took the statement, processed it in your mind, and decided that it made you angry. Learn to take responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions. They are truly in your control; never let others force you where you don’t want to go. And do not blame them when it happens, because you are the one who allowed it.

    3. You are NOT responsible for anyone else’s thoughts, feelings or actions. If you are concerned about how others might react to your words, do not lie, avoid, confuse, sugarcoat, or otherwise obscure the basic truth you intend to convey. They will process it in their own way and decide how to react or respond. All you can do is be honest, show sensitivity, and act in an adult manner. If you avoid the truth because you think it will make someone emotional, then the situation only becomes worse by withholding it. If they become emotional, that is their business. Let them deal with it in the way they choose. It’s not your role or responsibility to control them.

    4. People’s attitudes are their own; you cannot change them. You may not like someone’s apparent attitude, but what can you do about it? Tell him/her to get a new outlook? As much as it seems necessary or justified, your telling them won’t make it so. The best you can do is provide feedback on their actions and words; tell them what it made you think, how it made you feel, how they said/did it well, or how it could have been performed better. But let them think whatever they want. If you treat someone as though they have a bad attitude, then a bad attitude is what you will get. If you treat someone as though you value their opinions and their worth as a person, then you might just get a better response.

    5. Let adults make their own decisions. Americans are permitted to make most of their own decisions at 18 and virtually all of them at 21. You may not agree with or like their choices, but you have to respect that they were their decisions to make. Tell them what you think, but accept what they decided for themselves; it was their choice. [Note: The exception to this rule is for those with diminished capacity for processing inputs and making informed decisions, whether due to illness, disability or dementia.]

    6. Address issues at the source. So someone said or did something you didn’t like. Maybe you didn’t experience it yourself; maybe you heard it from someone else. And then you complained about the offender to anyone who would listen. What has been accomplished? Perhaps you generated some emotion, but you have not addressed the issue at hand. If someone says or does something to which you take exception, deal with him/her directly. That’s your only chance for a positive outcome. Involving third parties can only generate negative feelings that will hurt your future dealings with the person in question.

    7. Be the better person. Why is it that so many people, when they perceive they are being wronged, use it as license to behave badly themselves? Road rage, bar fights, petty arguments, rumor mongering, extramarital affairs, cheating on taxes… they are all examples of bad behavior on the pretext of someone else’s perceived bad behavior. What ever happened to “turn the other cheek”? Always be the best person you can be – patient, considerate, sensitive, understanding, generous, and forgiving. It does not make you a wimp; but it does expose the other party to what they really are. It’s OK to be the strong and silent type.

    8. Be honest about your intentions. People are more likely to accept or support your actions if they know why you are trying to do what you do. They might not agree, but at least they understand. If you do not make the effort to explain, others can only assume what your motivations are, and their assumptions are usually unflattering. Explaining your rationale engenders trust, one of the most important ingredients of human interaction.

    9. Never assume you know what motivates the actions of others. “He does it out of ambition.” “She acts that way due to poor self esteem.” “They had a bad childhood.” “His wife makes him.” If a trained psychiatrist takes hours of sessions to get to the bottom of a person’s psyche, how can the rest of us figure someone out in one flash of judgment? Easy – we cannot. Assessing the motivations of others is guesswork; maybe you guessed right, but more likely you guessed wrong. All that is certain is what they said or did. Deal with what is real, not what you perceive. If you act on what you think is someone’s motivation and you are wrong, you just wasted your time and effort, if not theirs. Or worse, maybe you added to the problem.

    10. Ask, don’t tell; challenge, don’t demand. Self-esteem is a key ingredient of effective human interaction. People who feel good about themselves have more to give and get more done. Part of self-esteem is having confidence in your abilities, knowing you are trusted, and having the opportunity to perform independently. Asking someone to do something affords the ability to decide whether to do it; telling them leaves no choice in the matter. Challenging someone appeals to their innate desire to demonstrate what they can accomplish; demanding something takes away from the satisfaction and fun that come from the accomplishment. Asking and challenging engender commitment, the internal fire that motivates us to do great things. Telling and demanding yield compliance, the lifeless obedience to do exactly as we are instructed, nothing more.

  4. Lynn Dessert says:

    Hi Bob, This is a great list though I am partial to a different outlook on #12.

    In a blog post I wrote, The Golden Rule Is Passé – It Goes Platinum http://wp.me/pw2yu-1R I am convinced some of the reasons we fail to connect with people is because of our tendency to think that people want the same things that we do. It is very difficult to walk in the other person’s shoes unless we change the lens on our thinking.

    • trustambassador says:

      Hi Lynn. Yes, I read your piece on the Platinum Rule. I was using that for a while, but dropped back to the Golden rule for a couple reasons,

      1) when you talk about the Golden Rule, nearly 100% of the people know what it is, with the Platinum Rule you need to explain what you are talking about, and there is a flaw in it.

      2) If I was running an organization and treated everyone exactly how they would like to be treated (platinum Rule), the organization would go broke quickly. For example, most people would like to be paid a lot more for their services, they would like to have more vacation and shorter working hours. They would want to cut back their workload while at work by at least 30%. So, treating people the way they would like to be treated is a formula for bankruptcy.

      The best rule of all is to treat people the right way, but that begs the question what that means, so I fall back to the Golden Rule. It does not always apply perfectly, (for example, I like to be loaded down with more work than I can possible handle because it makes me more efficient. If I treat other people like that, it would not work for many people) but for most situations most of the time, if you treat people like you would like to be treated, you will be doing roughly the right thing. Does that square with your understanding?

  5. ldessert says:

    Hi Bob, Here are some things to think about.

    1) Yes, people say they know the Golden Rule, or so we think. They have heard the concept but have they really thought about what it means?

    When I bring up the Platinum rule, I have their immediate attention. It does not bother me to explain it, because usually I can turn the situation around to how they might feel if someone imposes their approach on them and they did not appreciate it.

    2) The platinum rule does not mean that you don’t make good business decisions. Even using the Golden Rule, I might want things that are not doable. Either rule refers to how we communicate or respond to people who we interact with – no matter what the decision.

    You bring up a good example in your latest article, Email announcements are not enough! In the golden rule, I might only like to communicate by email. So, it stands to reason, if I like it, then everyone else should and they will get my message clearly – after all I did! The fact is people think differently and want to be approached in a way that they can relate to better.

    The news can be bad and if the approach is effective, there will be understanding.

    The right way to treat someone is also very different for each individual. Cultural, religious and other influences affect what people think is right. In some cultures, having direct eye contact is considered bad taste. In our culture, someone can be seen as weak and suspicious if they do not give us eye contact.

    Can we possibly know the right way to treat someone in every case? No. However, I think the platinum rule gets at the heart of opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and working with others. It is a great catalyst for people who are on the path of self development.

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