When you say nothing and allow people to treat you like shit, that’s what they’ll do. Not because it’s a terrible world or because every one’s a jerk; it’s not about some complicated cynical outlook. It’s because, despite the intellectual evolutionary marvel that the human brain exemplifies, at the basic level of it all, people are no different than animals. When it comes to behavior, we’re no smarter than the animals we command. Being treated well is about teaching people how you want to be treated, and training them to do it.
Staying silent while someone takes advantage of you tells them: I have no problem taking your shit, and actually, I approve of your methods. In less extreme cases, it simply means: there is no problem here. Let’s face it, people are dense sometimes. And at those times when they “don’t get it” they need a signal that some thing’s wrong and that their behavior toward you is unacceptable. They need a damn flare in the face and a good swift kick to the balls. People who have trouble understanding how to treat others need to be branded by a hot poker—your poker. You have to use a poker that leaves them with a permanent imprint that says: Respect me. Sell your shit somewhere else; we’re all stocked up here.
Just to quickly clarify something before we move on: standing up for yourself and training people to treat you well DOES NOT mean being rude to them. In fact, the most important part about changing the way people view you and gaining their respect is respecting them on the most basic level possible, despite their offences against you. This means being firm and direct without being rude. Once you cross the line of respect while addressing them, you lose all credibility and they’ll have all the justification they need to keep treating you like crap. Blatantly disrespecting someone teaches them that its okay to treat people like shit—and that includes you. By being an example of both resolve and respect, they have no choice but to consider another alternative.
Interestingly enough, it is precisely this perception, that “standing up for yourself means being an asshole”, that has caused people to stay silent more often. Somehow, we woke up one day and lost our nerve. During our hyper social culture, over the long haul of relentless questing for women’s rights and racial equality, something else got erased. People lost their balls, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, all such efforts for human justices are completely warranted and have ultimately bettered society. But the journey itself has left many people jaded, screaming into a pillow behind closed doors because we’ve become so uncomfortable with our opinions and the possibility that we might offend someone. In this modern age of over acceptance and “anything goes”, everyone is terrified of being the “bad guy”. The search for ultimate equality has led to an elusively superficial apathy that prevents us from telling someone they can’t treat us a certain way, for fear of losing our jobs or friends—how about your dignity buddy? Many have learned to stay mute. Mantras like “don’t take shit” and “give them hell” have turned into “suck it up” and “bend over and take it up the ass”.
Don’t believe me? How many of us in the smart phone age have ever received a message that says: “I don’t really want to hang out with you tonight”, or “Sorry, I don’t want to date you anymore”? You know why its rare? Because all we get is silence when we text these people looking for answers to simple questions. They can’t even tell someone who isn’t an enemy how they really feel. If we can’t talk about having other plans with friends, or the end of a dating stint with a casual lover, we’ll never be able to stand up to our real enemies. It’s that simple.
So, people stay silent I think. They turn a blind eye or try to convince themselves there’s no need to make a fuss, or that things are going to get better. Things will only get worse if you stay silent too long, because those who are offending you, didn’t get the message; they didn’t get the message because you didn’t friggin send one.
So basically, I told my boss to go fuck herself. Well okay, I didn’t say that exactly; but, I pretty much did.
Because over the past few months my company has acquired many new students, the workload has been ridiculous. I’ll spare you the details, but in particular, our system for preparing class materials was so pointlessly inefficient. The system’s flaws, and their truly devastating affect on our ability to teach, became infinitely worse because my boss had two teachers doing the work of three. On top of this, she appeared to have no remorse or consideration on her part; “thank yous” were almost unheard of, and I had yet to hear a “sorry” or “excuse” me when she’d come barging into my workspace, disrupting my work flow, to have me address an “emergency” task that had to be finished that minute. Everything is a damn emergency with her.
Driven to the brink, I felt my anger shift me into “triage mode”. I get like this sometimes, but it takes a lot to get me there. Triage mode is a state that I slip into where all of my talent, confidence, and intellectual capacities perfectly align to do one thing: FUCKING SUCCEED. Whether the matter be physical or mental, all excuses go out the window. When in this state I never fail to hit my mark. I get shit done; no bullshit. People can identify me in this mode because I articulate my words perfectly, and my vocabulary and sentence structures skyrocket to GRE testing levels. I look people dead in the eyes without blinking and my voice is produced with a strong wind from deep within my chest. If provoked far enough into this trance-like state, there’s no stopping me. Some feats accomplished by myself while in triage mode: learned the entire Japanese syllabary in one night; wrote, recorded, and mastered two full songs in 2 days.
Fed up, I called for a company meeting and insisted that everyone in the company be there. I was prepared to embarrass her, if not on purpose, by accident. To be sure, the embarrassment she had coming was not the result of malicious intent or disrespect, but rather the revelation of her own careless actions. The poor treatment of her employees, along with her narrow vision, would serve to embarrass her as they were meant to.
We all sat down at the scheduled meeting and I immediately took charge. With my inner forces aligned, I let her know with my body language and tone that I was in charge of that meeting. In that moment, I remember thinking about my own culture and how the first Americans wouldn’t allow themselves to be bullied by the British. In those days the stakes were much higher, but in this moment I never felt more proud to be an American.
My voice was strong and unwavering as I peered directly into her eyes. I told her that the material preparation system was terribly inefficient and the workload, being that of three teachers, required her to hire a new employee. My argument was respectful and sound, using only the facts and never getting personal. The facts were that, from a business point of view, this model could not be sustained if she intended to maintain quality and employee satisfaction. She sat stone faced and avoided my stare for some time before realizing that she had no shot of winning this game if she didn’t look directly at me. She finally forced herself to lock eyes with me as I began to suggest possible resolutions that might remedy the concerns on the table. After everything had been laid out, I moved to offering possible solutions for better efficiency when she interrupted me. I could tell she had prepared herself and the exact phrase that escaped her mouth.
She shook her head on a tilted axis with her eyes closed, like the scolding mother of a pitiful child. “No, I’m sorry I can’t help you…” she said in a condescendingly sweet tone, “The system is not a problem for me, so there’s nothing I have to do”.
I didn’t flinch and shot right back. “I understand that YOU don’t have a problem, but right now 60% percent of your company is coming to you and telling you there is a problem that prevents them from teaching your clients better; if it’s not your problem now, it will be soon.
At this moment she sought out reinforcements and recruited our office manager, who had only been working there for a few short months. Having known her since college, she was a seemingly infallible alibi for my boss to confirm that I was crazy. “Do you have a problem with the system?” she asked, almost answering for her.
Our office manager spoke softly with an uncertainty trailing her words. “No…No…it’s not very difficult. I don’t have a problem with it…”
My boss jumped in to reinforce her practically bullied statement, repeating it enough times so that it might come true. “Yea, it’s no problem. It’s not a problem. We don’t have a problem with it so…”
Then, unexpectedly, the office manager started again, “…well actually I haven’t been here that long, so I don’t know what the old system was like. I’ve never used it…so…”
At this, my eyes lit up. “She has nothing to compare the current system with. Therefore, her assessment is void.” I pointed to myself, “I, on the other hand, have the context necessary to make such a comparison and deem the current system to be absolutely atrocious.” I held my stare.
She seemed surprised at my audacity and recoiled. Her alibi had failed and I had broken her armor, but battle was not yet won; she had not yet submitted. She desperately clung to her script, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” She shook her head and tore her eyes away from mine.
“Well truly, as the owner of this company, you are the only one who can help us,” I said. I switched gears. “Let’s talk about workload. We’ve been working overtime with little break time for the past three months with no end in sight. We are doing the work of three teachers and I’m asking you if you are considering hiring another teacher, at least part-time?”
She sighed with a dismissive tone. “Okay, so you know, it’s very difficult to find a teacher, so for that right now I am still looking,” she said.
Her answer was too quick for me and delivered in a fashion that bordered on the passive aggressiveness of my kid sister. I wanted to let her know that I wasn’t going to let her hide no matter how uncomfortable she felt. I asked her to clarify, “So, just so we’re clear: you ARE looking for a part-time teacher right now?”
She backpedaled a bit with a stern tone, “I don’t know, so it’s very difficult. This is not the season, so maybe for that, I have to wait until the end of the school year.” She followed up with a move to try and sidestep the issue with smoke and mirrors. “So I know that you have been working a lot of overtime, but it’s the busy time of the year, so for that, it’s going to slow down soon. Maybe in two weeks.”
It was a nice try; I’ll give her that. But I had been working for this company for more than a full year, which means that I was aware of “busy times” and “slow times”. This was not a busy time; we had many more students sign up and were expanding as a company. The thing that really bothered me was that I couldn’t understand whether she was just being greedy and didn’t want to pay for another teacher—even though we were obviously making more money—or, if it was because she really didn’t understand business. In either scenario she’d be the idiot.
After making it pretty clear that she wasn’t going to elaborate any further on the issue, despite her remaining resistance, I went for knockout punch.
“Too much work, spread over too few employees, on top of poor office efficiency, equals losses in quality; this is a mathematical certainty. Something NEEDS to change. And, just as you ask us when there’s something wrong in our classrooms, or when there is a problem with a student, I’m asking you: As the owner of this company, what are YOU going to do about it?”
Her lips pursed a bit and her eyelids flared open. I got her. She abruptly turned and nearly shouted like a four-year old with Tourette’s Syndrome, “WE’LL SEE!”
The second she blurted out her submission, I immediately stood up and replied, “Okay then. Great. Thank you for your time. See you next week.” While walking toward the elevator I remember thinking about how great I felt about myself. The reason I felt great wasn’t because I had won, it wasn’t because I’d beaten my boss, and it wasn’t because I’d forced her to embarrass herself; I felt great about myself because I’d sent a message: I refuse to be silent.
Some time has passed now and the workload is still substantial with no extra employee in sight. However, from the week that followed that Friday meeting up until this very day, there has been a new material preparation system in place. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than the one before. Also surprising, is that my boss says “thank you” when I finish a task and always excuses herself or says “I’m sorry” when she interrupts my work flow. Additionally, she has also given me more frequent breaks and insists that I take one every now and then. I might not be her favorite employee, but now, she respects me. In comparison, the other American employee stayed quiet almost the whole meeting and did not dare speak firmly toward her. He’s been working there 3 years and is one of the best teachers I’ve ever know; she STILL treats him like shit. Why? Because he never speaks up.