Many individuals constantly keep thinking about what others think of them. This thought drives all their actions. They are conscious of other people’s opinions of them and they take each step thinking that the whole world is watching them. When someone is more concerned about what other people are thinking of them, I always like to relate a story from what I have come to call ‘the B files’ [the break-up files].
People care less
Many years ago, I went through a break-up in the middle of a professional convention. As I negotiated terms with my soon-to-be ex on the mezzanine level of a hotel, she asked, “Aren’t you embarrassed doing this in front of all these people?” I scanned the room and replied with a smile, “Everyone here is so self-absorbed, they’re never going to remember anything we do.” I returned to the same conference for several years, and no one ever mentioned it, to her or to me.
The truth is that people really don’t have enough room in their heads to keep track of the petty foibles you may have perpetrated in their presence. Most of our fears about what others think about us really come from our own insecurities. If you are a person who tends to judge or compare yourself with others while ‘trying to keep up with the Joneses’, you may just be reflecting your own thoughts. A lot of people believe that others think the same way they do, and most of the time, that just isn’t the case.
Each unto his own
We are all pretty wrapped up in our own lives, be the soap operas, comedies, or pseudo-reality shows. Our attention is more focused on ourselves than on others. At times, curiosity may find people thinking about other people; it’s like watching television or reading a good mystery. It helps them escape their own troubles for a while.
Yes, your clients and co-workers may be chatting or even gossiping about your hair transplant. There may even be wild speculation about the origin of the donour hairs. But how much time do you devote to staying tuned into the multitude of mini-dramas that surround you? Think about it. Unless you do something heinous or hurtful, the people you work with are not going to hang on to all your missteps nearly as long as you will. In addition, if someone is judging you because you didn’t have it together for a moment or two, then you have to ask yourself if that person is really worth working with. So stop worrying about what other people think of you. Go ahead and present that ‘off the wall proposal’, start your new business, or take a trip with your bonus money. It’s been my experience that if you’re a relatively decent human being with a sense of humour about yourself, people will remember the best things about you.
Dealing with mean-tors
On several occasions, my desire to see the good in people has blinded me to the arguably brutal negativity that some misdirected souls feel entitled to inflict on their co-workers. Perhaps the greatest betrayal is when someone we trust or look up to is mean to us.
Some people use meanness to get their way. We’ve all had bosses who thought that becoming Attila the Hun was an appropriate form of supervision. Management by intimidation never works.
At times meanness can appear to be an equaliser, giving someone the perception that they can protect themselves from an emotional terrorist. People who try to vanquish negativity in this manner are usually over matched. It’s hard to keep mean energy inside you if you are not really a mean person. And yes, most unfortunately, truly mean people do exist.
Even some overtly aggressive leaders act in ways they sense will make their staff cower. Most team members will submit to almost anything to get rid of the pain and anxiety. Mean people also enjoy the feeling of power their behaviour gives them. For them, being mean is an addiction, and they keep the meanness burning like a flame inside them. They are unaware of how this type of personality eventually destroys any relationship, business or personal.
It seems that there is more meanness today than before. I witness rudeness in entry-level interns who do their job with a smile, peers insult each other, and disgruntled employees trying fruitlessly to seek revenge through the courts. Everyone feels like they have to win, and many will stop at nothing. When this happens, everyone ends up losing. And the business ends up suffering.
Here are three things to do if you are dealing with a mean co-worker on a regular basis:
- Get support. Telling someone in HR or your supervisor what you are going through will help give you a place to put your pain and perhaps give you a perspective. Whether this is a onetime or an ongoing tragedy, the discussion with a professional in your office will help.
- Realise you have a choice. If you’ve been brought up around mean people, being around someone who understands can be an eye opener. Not everyone behaves badly. Choose to work with people who are kind.
- Get out of the way. Most people leave their jobs because they don’t get along with their bosses. It’s okay to leave or to end something if you are being abused. This goes for personal as well as professional relationships.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone respond positively to meanness. It’s a poor tactic. If you are mean, give it up. Like a song says, “Mean people suck.”
This was first published in the April 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.