How to Handle Mean People
You don’t have to look far to find mean people.
Back in the 60’s, when I lived in a Long Beach, CA neighborhood, there was an older gentleman who lived on our street. There were fifty 8-to-12-year-olds on that street, so you can imagine that there was much play in the street and each other’s yards. It was a glorious time of pretending to be superheroes with towels as capes, operating lemonade stands, riding bikes, and building forts.
Kids were everywhere.
Anytime one of us crossed this man’s yard, he’d yell at us. Any toy that happened to go over his fence was gone forever. He regularly complained to our parents. We did our best to stay away from the “grumpy old man.”
This happens at work, too.
At work, we encounter people acting mean all the time. The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 study of US workplaces found that 65 million workers are affected by bullying. We see teasing with demeaning downplay of others’ ideas and efforts. We see cliques form where outsiders are scorned. We see bosses trashing their employees’ work in front of the whole team.
This behavior has an adverse impact on health. A New York Times article outlined what can happen when workplace incivility reigns.
Mean people are sometimes allowed to get away with selfish behavior while keeping their jobs. We’ve seen more than one professional sports player be in the news for mean or abusive behavior. Some get suspended or otherwise disciplined, but in some cases, the behavior–or at least their attitude–may not change. Sometimes a team values talent over character.
Why do people act mean? There might be many valid reasons–they feel bad about themselves, they were unloved or abused as a child, they may have health or financial problems, or simply may be too exhausted to put forth the effort to be nice. They may have seen powerful, mean leaders “succeed.” It could be many factors, but it does not really matter why. All we can do is make a choice about how WE are going to respond to it.
I believe we have three options:
Tolerate. We can choose to remain civil with mean people and just try to ignore their behavior, or excuse it with, “That is just how they are.”
Insulate. We can choose to remain connected with mean people while intentionally limiting our interaction with them. We may be assertive about what behaviors are acceptable and what are not, and are willing to leave the family dinner or team meeting if things get out of hand. This approach may be better than merely tolerating, but it means we must always be “on guard.”
Eliminate. We can choose to separate ourselves from mean people completely. We may change jobs, move to a different neighborhood, stop attending certain events, or break off the relationship. We do not judge; we just move on.
What is the best option for you? For your well-being, I highly recommend insulation or elimination. Life is too short to deal with mean people.