We Teach Others How to Treat Us

We teach others how to treat us. We do this by what behaviors we allow, what we reinforce, and how we respond. Many people have written fluffy articles of dubious value about this concept, but here’s an article that offers good advice on how to put the concept into practice. The author, Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., explores the following steps to teach people how to treat us:

  1. Start with yourself
  2. Discuss your rules of engagement
  3. Communicate your needs clearly and compassionately
  4. Model how you’d like to be treated
  5. Reinforce behaviors you like
  6. Pick a role model to emulate
  7. Have realistic expectations

Watch Hidden Figures for examples of each of these steps. In this wonderful biopic movie about three black female mathematicians — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson — who helped launch the first people into space and change racist and sexist policies within NASA and local schools during the civil rights era in the early 60s. These talented women faced extreme hardship and bigotry as they strived to advance their careers, earn degrees, raise families, and build the world’s first space program. However, they were determined and brave, and they knew how to teach others how to treat them. They knew themselves and what they wanted (1). They clearly and compassionately expressed to others what behaviors were acceptable and what their needs were (2, 3). They worked harder than anyone else and treated colleagues and subordinates with respect, dignity, and admiration (4). When men finally saw the errors of their ways and began to change how they treated these women, the women graciously accepted apologies and built relationships and communities (5). They had strong parents as role models, as well as civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and they also very intentionally modeled their behaviors for their own children. They had big dreams, but they didn’t expect everyone and everything to change overnight.

However, when we don’t take the above steps, we still teach others how to treat us. We teach others how to treat us poorly. When we don’t treat ourselves well and don’t know what we value (1), when we don’t discuss with others the specifics of what behaviors are acceptable and how to communicate appropriately (2), when we don’t tell others what we need or if we let anger override compassion (3), when we don’t model appropriate behaviors ourselves regardless of what other people do and say (4), when we don’t show gratitude and reward the positive behaviors of our allies (5), when we don’t have or emulate role models (6), and when don’t have realistic expectations and believe everyone can and will change decades of ingrained behaviors immediately (7), then inevitably some, perhaps many, people will treat us without respect, dignity, and admiration.

If we don’t like the way a boss, colleague, neighbor, family member, or anyone else treats us, and if for whatever reason we are unable or unwilling to leave the situation or stop interacting with the person, then we must look within to see what we can do to teach that antagonistic person how we’d like to be treated. Just like with the mathematicians in Hidden Figures, when we do this long enough, it becomes second nature to us, our default settings, and eventually most people will learn and begin treating us with the respect we deserve. Taking this logic a step further, perhaps this is the only way people will learn to treat all others better. If we want to change the world and end bigotry in all its forms, perhaps this is the way to do it.