We see this with telemarketers who exploit our general tendency to be kind and, following a script, regard our polite “No, thanks” as simply a signal to move on to another way to break down our defenses. We see this with manipulators who seek to exert control by intimidating people who strive to be fair.
In short, these obnoxious toads use our virtues as weapons to subdue us.
So it is with power in the workplace. In dealing with disagreeable people we often fall into the trap of giving them the power to hurt, irritate, or frustrate us. We do so by:
Granting them our presence. If a person is not going to behave appropriately, then that person should not be granted the presence of people who do behave appropriately.
Caring about how they feel. We owe others basic courtesy. When they do not reciprocate, then that obligation ends along with the ending of the relationship. We may not be able to control their actions but we can control our reaction to those actions and our reaction should be designed to give them as little control as possible.
Paying attention to what they say. Some remarks and behavior are worthy of no attention.
Feeling obligated to respond to what they say or do. Not every action or comment merits a response. Remember the old line, “You should never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig loves it.”
Feeling obligated to explain our actions. As security consultant Gavin de Becker says, “No is a complete sentence.”
Following ground rules that they have established. Who elected them Pope?
Holding a grudge or plotting revenge against them. Why let resentments control your life? Stun them with your indifference.
An elementary strategy when dealing with offensive people is to examine if our own actions are inadvertently giving them power. If that is the case, we can methodically remove the sources of that power. Remove the oxygen and put out the fire.