There is an epidemic of “burnout” in this country.  We are all overworked and overstressed.  We suffer from “time poverty.”  And yet, there are individuals who seem able to withstand the stresses and strains that are burning out the rest of us.  What is the nature of their immunity?  What are they doing that we aren’t doing?  How can we get in on it?

One of the variables that distinguishes these exceptional people is their ability to cope with the negative behavior of those around them.  They are not “cool,” “aloof,” or “distant.”  They are managing themselves in ways that are foreign to us.  We do not know what they are doing or how they do it.  We are afraid to find out.  We continue to react to negative, provocative behavior the same way we did in fourth grade.  We suppress our feelings of displeasure down into our stomachs or we erupt like a volcano every twelve minutes, or we rotate between the two.

We cannot begin to strengthen our vulnerabilities until we know what they are.  We have to start questioning some of our modes of responding to people, and if they are not appropriate, we must replace them with something that is.  When we overreact to a situation out of our vulnerability, when we are too pleasing, too responsible, or too controlling, we are overcompensating for our own feelings of inadequacy and we are antagonistic.  The antidote to taking things personally is our self-respect, which is the feeling that we are unconditionally lovable. We will never be more lovable nor will we ever be less lovable. Our lives can be hard or easy, but a hard life does not mean we are less lovable and an easy life doesn’t make us more lovable. When we make make mistakes, we are not screw ups, only imperfect. All humans are imperfect, we all make mistakes.

If we are angry at the employee, we can tell the truth.  We can say, “It is unacceptable to be twenty minutes late every day. It makes me angry that others have to work harder because you choose to arrive late.” In this way we are using our words, not our behavior to express our feelings. If the employee is angry at the coworker, we can say, “I’m sorry you are so angry.  It makes you angry when that happens, doesn’t it?  I’m glad you can tell me that.  I know how hard that is to say.”  We want to encourage others by being a rolemodel, to express their anger in the middle ground between the extremes of rage and suppression.

In choosing to put our personal relationship with the employee on a businesslike basis of mutual respect, we are not only disengaging from his or her antagonism, we are disengaging from our own.  When we do, we will know what self-respect feels like.  The employee may choose to follow our example.

Angry woman at work image available from Shutterstock.