Let’s start with the problem. If you’re like most people, you are tired of other people’s insensitive, aggressive, inconsiderate, and sometimes obnoxious behavior. And you’re not alone.
People complain about the way they’re treated every day. It gets in the way of their happiness and success. It hurts their careers, and their relationships. And when we allow all this negativity to activate our stress response system too often, it damages our cardiovascular health, and more simply, it just makes us feel worn down.
Research shows that nearly everyone has experienced incivility at work, most talk about their negative encounters to others, and an overwhelming majority believes incivility is a problem.
So what do we do?
We start by not taking personally what we can’t control, and we take greater responsibility for what we can. When we refuse to let others dump their “garbage” (negativity, anger, resentment) on us at work—we learn to let it “pass by” instead—we become happier and more successful, both personally and professionally. And when we stop dumping garbage on others, we improve our relationships, strengthen our businesses, and advance our careers. This is the essence of The Law of the Garbage Truck.
Here are ten ways we can increase happiness, success, and civility at work today.
#1. Some people absorb and ruminate about every perceived slight in the workplace. Don’t be one of them. Let the unimportant “pass you by,” so you can address what matters. Direct your mental and physical energy to what you really care about.
#2. Vent with permission, but don’t dump. Venting helps people understand your problems. Dumping leaves people feeling burdened by your problems. If you want someone to listen to you as you blow off steam, ask them permission to do so first. When you say, “May I vent for a moment?” you show respect for their priorities and time. If they say, “yes,” go ahead and vent, but put a short time limit on yourself, and be sure to thank them for their support when you’ve finished. If they say, “no,” to your request to vent, honor their answer, and find a better time.
#3. We all make mistakes at work. Many of them are unintentional and unimportant. We don’t want to be judged harshly for these mistakes, especially when we are quick to correct them. Similarly, we must not judge others unfairly for their inconsequential mistakes. Offer what I call “real-time forgiveness” instead, and return our attention to achieving the goals of the business.
#4. Make sure your feedback is well-grounded. You want your input to be timely, factual, balanced, and delivered with good intentions. Here are “The Four Keys to Good Feedback”: (1) Ask permission to share your feedback. You’ll always get it, and the fact that you respectfully asked for permission will center the person’s attention on what you have to share. (2) Briefly state your expectations of the person’s performance or behavior. (3) Objectively describe what happened. (4) Describe the impact of the behavior or event. What were the results? Why does it matter?
#5. Don’t fall into a cycle of revenge at work. Getting back at people will not make you happier, and it will not help your career. It will only keep you focused on a negative past, rather than creating a better future. If you have a hard time shaking the revenge impulse, remind yourself that doing outstanding work and cultivating positive relationships will assure you of a more important victory: success.
#6. People complain to all of us. None of us is immune. However, how we respond is our choice. I recommend “Five Responses to Complaining.”
One: Evaluate people’s complaints. If their complaints have merit, help them address their issues.
Two: If people’s complaints are passing and unimportant, don’t focus on them. Let them pass by, and turn the conversation to something more constructive.
Three: If people insist on complaining, remember the distinction between “venting” and “dumping.” Ask them if they need to vent for a moment. Just asking this question will slow them down, and the emotion behind their complaining will be partially replaced by the effort of thinking of an answer to your question. You will help diffuse some of their negative energy. If they say “yes” to your offer to vent, be a good listener, and help them move on.
Four: If people return to vent about the same issue time after time, help direct them to the source of their problem. They will be better served by addressing the root cause of their frustration, and you will keep your relationships free of the burden of excessive negativity.
Five: Finally, if people become a significantly negative influence in your life, thoughtfully let them know how their complaining is hurting their relationship with you and others. If they do not change their ways, disassociate yourself from them as much as possible. You need to move on and so do they. We must not let other people’s bad behavior hold us back, and we must not burden others with ours. We deserve a good life and a good career. When we focus on what’s important, and when we let the negative things we cannot control pass by, we increase happiness, success, and civility at work and in the world.