There are times when you’re dealing with someone who appears to have no social skills, redeeming qualities, or an IQ higher than a Popsicle stick. These are people who tend to make off color jokes, find fault with everyone but themselves and generally make you want stab your eyes out. You know who they are – sadly they don’t know who they are and so they do not identify as jackasses. Since I work for myself, I don’t really have to deal with this much anymore, but I have clients who do have to deal with these people, and upon occasion, rare occasion, I run into someone who makes me reevaluate my capacity for violence.
As much as you would like to tell someone he or she is a jackass, this approach does little to curb their jackassness. The fact is jackasses are really just misunderstood humans who often have a misguided belief that they are more amusing than they actually are and want desperately to connect with the civilized world. The great news is that your jackass can be reeducated with patience and training. Here are some rules for reeducation:
*Be kind and be patient. It’s easy to be reactive and want to outfit someone with a new orifice when they’re violating basic rules of civility and decency, but everyone is served if you breathe through your rage and find a speck of kindness in your heart for the offender. I did a speaking engagement out of town and decided to stay with a friend and not rent a car. For some reason the person in charge of the group I was speaking for didn’t appreciate this even though it saved the organization money and had no impact on logistics. When we first met he said, “When you decided to make your own arrangements I could have killed you and thought I would hate you.” I was STUNNED by his aggressive language; but without emotion I simply said, “Interesting. Why is that exactly?” My calm transformed the entire tone and direction of the relationship because I tried to be kind even though he was anything but. I have learned to be kind and patient. There was a time in my life that dialogue would have ended with someone missing a limb and I assure you it wouldn’t be me! Now I know better so I do better.
*Don’t assume someone knows they are offensive. Frequently people truly believe that they’re just being funny and have no idea that they’ve offended anyone because no one has taken the time to express how they feel. I worked for a company in Montana where I was the only woman. Inappropriate and often really offensive jokes were part of the daily culture. The first time I heard a racial slur, I wanted to tear into this guy like a bear, but I didn’t. Instead I simply said, “Dude that is totally not cool with me. Even if you think you’re joking, it’s not funny and it actually really upsets me.” I built a really strong relationship with those guys by drawing a line without shaming them. I talked to them about why it upset me and they respected my feelings and changed their behavior.
*Reward good behavior. When someone who is rude or disrespectful acts with decency, let him or her know that you appreciate it. People are more likely to repeat positive behavior if they feel valued. Look for even small moments to express gratitude for good behavior.
*Focus on your own agency. I’ve helped clients work through some incredibly difficult and sometimes volatile situations with co-workers or even difficult clients. I always ask my clients to focus on what they can do differently because that is the only thing any of us controls – our own behavior. Change your reaction and your response and you have a shot at changing the outcome.
Be conscious and deliberate with your interactions and don’t allow someone to agitate you. Choose your reaction and you might just inspire meaningful change.