Q. My boss is mean, rude and ungrateful. I have been nothing but nice and hard working and he just seems to get worse. I have coworkers who are also rude, and he seems to leave them alone. Why is being nice making me a target? How can I get my boss to back off?
A. Unfortunately, human beings often treat people they fear better than people who behave well. You'll get your boss to back off if you play by the same rules that people far less nice than you play by.
Many, many people get into a power struggle with reality believing that if they hold their breath long enough reality will become what they believe it should. Have empathy for yourself that work is often truly unfair and the world often isn't what it should be but that doesn't mean you can't get what you want.
Your first step is to look around your workplace and notice who is well treated and how their behavior differs from yours. You'll see that employees who are less nice, more focused on their own goals, and not overextending themselves are often treated with respect. Consider carefully whether you can choose to be respected over being liked.
The trouble with being exceptionally nice at work is others may see your behavior as weakness. They may decide that if there is anyone they can treat badly ... well, it is someone who will be nice about it. Thus, they are late, drop the ball and are verbally abusive because, hey, you will probably tell them that it is OK. They understand that a not so nice coworker might bite their head off.
Contemplate the behavior in the animal world. No one messes with a panther, a cobra or a crocodile mostly because they are pretty clear it would hurt. The panther, cobra and crocodile don't go out of their way to behave badly; however, the rest of the animal kingdom knows each animal has power it will use if threatened.
It's not for nothing that the workplace is sometimes called a jungle. People mostly do what they do because they consider it in their best interests, and empathy is not widely used. Here are some "cobra" tricks you can use to discourage others from running you over:
--Don't talk too much. Keep your conversation more concise, terse and to the point.
--Don't smile so much. Smiling is literally a way of showing your teeth and letting people know you won't use them. A more serious expression will get you taken more seriously.
--When people screw up around you, don't be so quick to make them feel better. Every time you reflexively say, "That's OK," the other person figures you mean it.
--Don't overextend yourself by doing extra nice and personal things at work (baking cookies, volunteering for everything and listening to everyone's problems). Overextending yourself puts on a neon sign on your head identifying you as a doormat.
For my clients who are proud of their amiability, it is a real difficult transition for them to understand the dark side of niceness. Wake up and realize there is no equal sign between you being nice and other people treating you well. You don't have to turn into the office reptile to command respect; just turn down the volume on offering too much all the time.
Q. Do people think about anybody other than themselves at work?
A. No, thinking about other people, if it happens at all, is always only a second thought.
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)