We Teach People How to Treat Us

We all teach people how to treat us … you, me and everyone else.

You communicate what’s acceptable – and what’s not – by your words, body language, facial expressions, actions, reactions, and energy.

When your behavior is consistent with the way you want or expect to be treated, you’re teaching well.

Lessons from dog training

Jasper and Elsie in Sit_largeMeet my dogs, Jasper and Elsie.

See how nicely they are sitting?

Things would have been so much easier if they’d arrived in my life behaving this well. But they didn’t.  😉

They arrived as sweet, happy dogs…with some not-so-happy quirks. And without teaching them how we expect them to behave, they would have remained in those not-all-good, habitual patterns.

Repetition and consistency is key

They were quick to learn sit and down. Stay and come (as in, “Now, not when you feel like meandering over here”) took longer. And “Don’t even think about taking off to chase that squirrel” took a seriously long time.

Here’s what I discovered during the process:  dog training is more about teaching owners, not dogs, how to behave.

It’s not enough to say, “Sit” and “Stay.” You have to mean it.

The way dogs know you mean it is when your words, body language, facial expressions, actions, reactions, and energy are all consistent … over and over again. When I started doing that, Jasper and Elsie started taking me seriously.

The problem with wishy-washy.

Bob is a perfect example of how not to train your dog.

I met him and his dog Penelope in dog training. She’s a sweetheart. He’s a training disaster.

“Penelope, sweetie, can you lay down?” is a classic Bob “command.” When she doesn’t obey, he smiles, coos, pets her, and laughs at how cute she is.

He’s sending confusingly mixed messages. And he rewards her even when she doesn’t do what he asks.

Not to compare people to dogs, but …

… teaching people how to treat you isn’t radically different from training a dog.

Your words, body language, facial expressions, actions, reactions, and energy must all send the same message about how you want to be treated. And you need to deliver the same message over and over again.

Otherwise you’re sending mixed signals or a flat-out wrong message.

You’re probably sending your own mixed signals or wrong messages in some part of your life.

It would take a 10,000 word article to list all the possible places this can happen. (And I definitely don’t want to teach anyone to expect super-lengthy articles from me!)

But here are three common examples:

1.    You ask people to show up to your meeting on time. But not everyone does. So you delay the start of your meeting to wait for the late folks.  Do it once, no big deal.

But when you consistently wait for stragglers, they learn it’s okay to be late. And the timely folks learn that it’s a waste of their time to show up on time.

Guess how you’ve taught people to treat you?

2.    Even though it’s so not working for your life, you consistently take conference calls on evenings and weekends. You imply that 7PM on Tuesday or 8AM on Saturday isn’t really a good time for you. And you grumble to your friends about how tired you are of the inconsiderate timing of the calls.

It’s fine to show up on inconvenient calls when it’s truly an emergency. But if you consistently agree to the calls, they’ll keep getting scheduled because everyone knows you’ll say yes.

Guess how you’ve taught people to treat you?

3.    You put everyone else’s needs and wants ahead of yours.  You’re frustrated and cranky that yet again you’re the one sacrificing. When will it be your turn?

But when you consistently put your needs and wants on the back burner, the people in your life learn that you’ll take care of whatever they need.

Guess how you’ve taught people to treat you?

Who and what do you need to teach?

You need three things to start retraining people:

  1. Clarity on how you want to be treated,
  2. Courage to bring your behavior into alignment, and
  3. Patience to stick with the training program.

Pick one place in your life to start. And then get going.

The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs. ~ Joan Didion


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