How do you build a happy workplace? Typical team-building activities, flex-time, event tickets, free pizza on Fridays, a wilderness-survival course?
I suggest a different goal: Create a “winning” workplace instead of a “happy” one. If you build a winning workplace – including shared sacrifice, accomplishment and reward – you’ll also have a happy one. You’ll retain only those people, at all levels, who are happy when they’re being very productive, winning and being rewarded.
You’re also looking for people who develop camaraderie by feeding off accomplishment; who become more productive working with other good people.
Don’t bother with academic questions like whether it’s better to be an approachable, exuberant leader or a distant one. Debates stimulated by sociology research or individual preferences won’t help you. There is no one-style or ideal model of a successful leader. Become the best one of your type of leader.
You don’t need to be a party animal to create a winning team, but you do need to be successful, to foster success for others and to appreciate and reward them – no matter what your style is. Do that and the best people will be eager to stay.
Clara had finally created a family life with her husband and three children in which they could open up their feelings, fears, hopes and dreams and know they’d be listened to with understanding, caring and tenderness. They wouldn’t stab each other in the back, throw up old mistakes and fears, put each other down or try to control the turf. Instead, they’d be polite and civil in sorting through disagreements and in trying to find solutions they could all live with. Acts of charity and compromise would be reciprocated.
But with some of her extended family and some of her co-workers those tactics and her principles of openness, honesty, kindliness, consideration, compromise and tenderness got her routinely bullied, putdown and taken advantage of.
She didn’t want to violate her most cherished beliefs. She didn’t want to treat people as if they were evil; she wanted to see the good in them. She didn’t want to turn into a self-centered, narcissistic, uncaring, vicious, manipulative control-freak in order to protect herself.
So what could she do?
Let go of prejudices and abstract principles.
Clara saw that as much as she wanted to see the best in every member of her extended family, she often was treated by their worst. Their spirits might be pure but their personalities ruled their behavior. After decades of contact, the alcoholics and rage-aholics still lashed out at her if she was in their line of sight, the jealous, manipulative, negative relatives still whacked her with their poisoned tongues; the weak and insecure relatives still put her down in order to puff themselves up.
No amount of sweetness, no amount of holding back and biting her tongue, no amount of defending herself and her family, no amount of asking politely, no amount of offering to compromise had changed their behavior.
After one particularly brutal family occasion, she saw things as they really were: she had held back because she hadn’t wanted to give up on them, she hadn’t wanted to see them as evil, she hadn’t wanted to hurt them in retaliation. Her values and principles were leading her to put her head in the dragon’s mouth – her need to treat all people the same way no matter how they’d treated her; her hope that if she was nice enough, they’d be nice in return.
So what could she do?
Test the world – nature and people.
Clara finally broke through to a new way of being in the world. Instead of having universal principles determine how she’d act, she’d test the world and let nature and people tell her the way they were.
Of course, she’d already done that with nature. She’d already figured out how to live in a world where things fell downward, where if she turned her steering wheel she’d go in a certain direction, where if she didn’t put gas in her car or charge her cell phone they wouldn’t work.
Now she’d test other people, not herself. She’d assume that when people were nasty or blamed on her, that didn’t tell her anything about her. Because they weren’t happy didn’t mean she was a failure or bad person. She didn’t need to wallow in blame, shame or guilt. She didn’t have to do everything to please them, it wasn’t necessarily her fault. What they said and did told her about them – their habits, standards and ways they related to people; what they wanted and how they tried to manipulate, coerce or verbally abuse other people in order to get their way.
Create an environment that’s rich, gracious, inspiring and thrilling.
Clara finally realized that her most important value or goal was to create and maintain the wonderful environment she had with her immediate family. She’d do her best to create as much of that as she could in other areas of life – with her extended family and in the workplace.
But did she have to let everyone in or could she be judgmental?
Let people show us how they’re likely to act and what it will take to protect ourselves.
Every person had shown Clara what treatment to expect from them. They’d also shown her what to do to get them to stop hurting her.
Some people showed her they’d reciprocate kindness with kindness. Others told her that to get them to stop hurting her, she might have to smack their noses (figuratively, verbally or literally) just like when she was training her dog. Sometimes she might have to maintain a distance of 2,000 miles and no phone or internet contact. She’d simply have to pay careful attention to how they acted, not what they said, and adjust her tactics accordingly.
Clara would not have to judge their identity or try to decide whether they were good or evil. She would not get involved with their reasons, excuses or justifications. She’d simply be discerning and accurate about their behavior. She’d also assume that they’d continue behaving the way they had until she got long-term evidence of change. Then she could decide whether to trust that change – tiny bit, by tiny bit.
Use different tactics to succeed in different situations.
Clara had a lot of control within her extended family as long as she was willing to invite people into her environment if they behaved in a way that supported it and to exclude people who might pollute or destroy it. Acting that decisively would probably result in huge rifts in the extended family, but Clara had to decide what was more important for her. Then she could adjust her approach depending on the situation and people involved.
At work, Clara had less control. But, if she had the strength, courage and determination, she still could adjust her tactics. She could see the few people at work who had taken advantage of her and she knew, in her heart of hearts, that because she’d tolerated their hostility and attacks, they’d simply become bolder. The more she had allowed them to push her boundaries, the more they’d push.
She knew she’d have to assert herself and learn to push back. She needed to free herself to push back and learn to use her tongue and political savvy to get them to focus on someone else.
But did protecting herself make her a bad person?
She decided that it didn’t. Those bullies, like many pets, had showed her what it would take to get them house-trained. And now she was willing to do the training!
Being open to suggestions from your team is an important part of being a good leader.
But don’t be bullied by whining complainers who always find fault, no matter what you do. They’re not interested in improving teamwork or performance in the workplace. They’re interested in feeling superior and in bullying and controlling you by getting you to try to please them.
Abused, bullied and battered women often end their comments with some version of:
But I still love him.
Sometimes he’s nice to me and I still think I can change him, if only I was good enough.
He still says that he loves me.
I’m afraid to leave because I’m worthless and won’t be able to make it without him.
I’m afraid to leave because he’ll kill me.
Today, let’s focus on the idea that woman can’t dump him because they love him. Of course the same reasons are true for men facing negative, critical, harassing, manipulative, abusive, bullying, battering women.
For a moment, forget what we were taught about love, especially the importance and moral value of unconditional love, when we were young – what it is, what it feels like, how we know we’re really in love and what we’re supposed to do when we feel that way.
As long as the answers don’t affect our lives, we might have fun speculating about those questions. But even though love is usually accompanied by real feelings, it’s still an abstract concept that really isn’t a tangible noun, like a physical object is.
A more useful path is to choose how we want to be loved. That is; what kind of behavior will we allow in our personal space, whether the actions are called “love” or “bullying” or “abuse.”
Also more useful is to choose which of our thoughts and feelings we want to follow in our lives. Or, which feelings, if any, do we want to let blow us over or sweep us away.
Now that we’re adults with more experience, we can see that when we let some feelings sweep us away, we’re like a sail boat without a rudder or keel. We’re blown whichever way the wind and current takes us. We’ve lost control and we’ll never get where we want to sail to. We’re at the mercy of external forces – his whims and actions at the moment. Do we want to continue letting ourselves get blown away?
It’s even worse after kids come. So many women make mistakes about which values are most important. For example, they think that it’s most important that their kids have a father even if that father abuses and bullies them or only their mother. Or they think that they most important value is never to say anything bad about their children’s father, even though their observations are accurate and especially necessary to reinforce what their children see and think. People are being beaten and that’s being called “love.” Children must learn that they are seeing reality and they can trust their perceptions. Covering up the truth or lying creates self-doubt and undermines their confidence and self-esteem.
I think that it comes down to knowing, in our heart-of-hearts, that we can’t let whatever feeling we call “love” take over our lives when that feeling keeps putting us and our children in harm’s way. There are higher standards of behavior than that feeling we call “love.” And that the word “love” doesn’t remove all the pain caused when narcissistic, righteous predators attack their targets.
On the other hand, if we love our spirits, our children and our high standards of behavior that are required in our personal space, then we can stop bullies or get away from their bullying. The number one factor in changing the behavior of relentless bullies is serious consequences.
Of course, it may be scary, dangerous and difficult to get away. Of course, we may be poor and suffer at first. But it’s the only chance we have to clear our personal space so that someone wonderful can come into it; someone who treats us good. We must not be defeated by defeats.
Getting help to create a plan and carry it out with determination, perseverance, strength, courage and resilience.
Having a wiser and more mature sense of love and which feelings to pay attention to. That means straightening ourselves out so we’ll love better people who treat us well.
Feelings and thoughts are like the bubbles of carbonation on a soda. They’re always, always, endlessly bubbling up to the surface and then drifting away. Some of those bubbles can smell pretty bad. Pardon the crudity, but we’ve all had brain farts. And like the other kind, we know that if we wait a minute, the stinky, scary, self-bullying fears, put-downs and “shoulds” will drift off on their own. We can decide not to act on them and simply let them go. We can throw ourselves into other thoughts or activities to speed the process.
Honest self-evaluation and course correction are key traits of great leaders, managers and employees.
For example, suppose you complain that almost everyone in your department or organization is turned off and tuned out. Are they all just a bunch of self-indulgent, narcissistic, lazy slackers or a rotten generation – or have you failed somehow?
You want the people on your team to get along with one another and to work well together.
But beware of self-appointed middle-men or peace makers. They actually promote whining and complaining, and lead your team to wallow in emotional turmoil and dissention.
I attended a wonderful presentation on cyberbullying and sexting by an officer from a local police department. The question came up about spying on our teenagers’ phones and computers: “Do our teenagers have a right to privacy?” That was followed by the question: “If we spy on our teens, how can they consider us friends? They’ll never open up to us. Won’t that thwart our efforts?”
Let’s distinguish between two types of threats to our teenagers:
Adult predators who lure them and groom them – whether to exploit them or to gain personal, family information to use against their parents.
Other teens who will slam them, cyberbully them and share sexted pictures.
Although most parents worry about the first situation, most kids worry about the second or will blow it off as “Drama.” But the answer is the same in either case.
Teenagers have no privacy. I want us to know what our kids are doing so we can help them. We’ve been there and done that and have more wisdom, even though they don’t think so. If we don’t have wisdom, we should make learning a first priority.
As long as they’re dependent on us and we’re responsible for them, we must know. They may be more technically savvy but we can learn enough. That’s what our friends are for.
In addition, of course, we can be alert to the first signs of cyberbullying. Have they withdrawn or stopped eating, being with friends, or wanting to go to school? Have they become emotionally labile (mood swings, happy, crying, excited, depressed, angry, hysterical all in 10 seconds)? Do they engage in negative self-talk and put-downs? Do they lack self-confidence and self-esteem? Are they changing everything in order to get friends or please boy or girlfriends? Are they anxious, stressed, not sleeping?
When they accuse us of not trusting them, we already know the answers:
It’s not about trust; it’s about experience, wisdom and safety.
They’ve hidden, lied and deceived us before and will do so again. Of course we don’t trust them, just like our parents shouldn’t have trusted us.
It’s about which risks we’ll allow them to take and which we won’t.
When they insist that they’re old enough to make their own decisions, we also know the answer to that: “When you’re capable of supporting yourself and living independently, then you’re old enough to be responsible for yourself.
As for their opening up because we’re their friends; how many of us opened up to our parents – or would have if they tried to be our friends? We thought we could or had to solve things on our own or we knew better than to open up.
Whether we physically check phone and computer logs or we also use spyware, we must take the initiative. If they don’t like it, they don’t need a phone. Also, we should take steps to find out about their friends and what their friends’ parents allow or encourage.
Unfortunately, too many examples can be found in the headlines of what happen when parents don’t know what their teens are doing.
Mean girls, like mean guys, can make middle and high school a wounding, scarring misery for many kids.
We’d expect elementary school friendships to change as girls develop different interests in boys, studies, athletics, music, art and science at different rates – especially interests in boys. We’d expect old friends to drift apart.
But the verbal, mental and emotional consequences of put-downs, teasing, taunting, cutting-out, ganging up, harassment, hazing, bullying and abuse can be devastating. Scars can last a lifetime.
Alicia and Cory were best friends for years but in middle school, Cory changed. She became boy-crazy and Tammy became her best friend. Alicia wasn’t interested in boys at that time so she and Cory started drifting apart. Nothing unusual or wrong with that.
But Tammy made it a problem. She and few friends targeted Alicia and insisted that if Cory wanted to be Tammy’s “best friend,” Cory had to join in the attacks on Alicia. Cory didn’t resist. As soon as Cory gave in, Tammy upped the stakes and kept making Cory be more and more vicious in order to join the gang.
Alicia had never done anything bad to Tammy or to Cory. Neither would talk with Alicia about why Tammy had singled her out. Tammy was simply a bully; each year in school she aligned herself against a scapegoat who she used to rally a clique around her as a leader in devising more and more cruel attacks. This year was simply Alicia’s turn. Since nothing bad happened to Tammy during her years at school, she didn’t see any reason to stop.
When Alicia talked with Cory, Cory cried, but didn’t stop her attacks.
What can Alicia and her parents do?
Alicia didn’t talk about the bullying but her parents could tell there was something very wrong. They dragged it out of Alicia. They could understand Alicia and Cory’s different interests and growing distance, but they were appalled that an old friend was so vicious toward Alicia.
Alicia’s parents knew Cory’s parents very well so they decided to talk with them. They didn’t know Tammy’s parents so they did not approach them. Cory’s parents were upset at their daughter, but after lengthy discussions they decided to minimize the bullying. They said that Alicia would have to deal and they were happy that Cory had gotten in to a popular crowd.
While Alicia’s parents were exploring other avenues, like talking to the district administrator, they knew that their immediate task was to help Alicia develop an attitude that would diminish the emotional hurt. They knew that kids who took the put-downs to heart usually suffered all their lives. More than the crying, loss of appetite, falling grades, sleepless nights, negative self-talk, anxiety, blame, shame and guilt, low self-confidence and self-esteem, and depression and maybe even suicidal tendencies often followed such relentless attacks. Indeed, Alicia had begun to take the viciousness personally. She wasn’t ugly but she wasn’t beautiful; she was skinny and she hadn’t started developing breasts yet; she was good-natured and social but not in the clique of the most popular girls. She began to think that there must be something wrong with her because she was picked on and didn’t know how to fight back – being nice, appeasement and following the Golden Rule hadn’t helped. Since the adults didn’t protect her, she thought that maybe there really was something wrong with her and she’d be a loser and alone all her life. Her parents and family loved her but maybe, she thought, in the outside world, she’d be victimized for life.
Alicia was not one to fight back with fists, arguments or even sarcasm. The tactic that fit her personality and comfort zone was simply to mutter “jerks,” laugh with scorn and walk away with her head held high. And she remained laughing and happy because she knew who the losers were. While that infuriated Tammy, Cory and the others, there were a number of other girls who responded to Alicia’s attitude of confidence and self-esteem, and to her smile and good cheer. She slowly collected her own clique of friends.
Alicia also built a mental movie of a future in which she was loved and had a loving family. She could see that she looked like her mother, who’d married her handsome father and that they loved each other. She had hope that she could also do as well. Therefore, she also judged the boys who circled around Tammy and Cory as jerks. She knew they weren’t good enough for her. Her self-esteem and confidence grew. Other kids noticed that she seemed more secure and sure of herself. Since she was nice and friendly, many wanted to be friends with her.
Alicia also realized that she would not want to be friends later in life with most of those middle school kids. As much as they had seemed important to her before, she decided that she’d make her own life, following her own interests so any middle school friends were probably temporary. That took much of the sting out of Tammy and Cory’s continuing scorn and harassment.
We grow up testing ourselves; “Are we good enough? If not it’s our fault. Did we succeed; we still could have done more. Did we fail; it’s our fault.” Testing ourselves is a motivation strategy, “Figure out what’s wrong with us and improve it.” And behind it is the hidden message, “We’re defective and we’d better work at improving and perfecting ourselves every minute or no one will want us and we’ll fail.”
The strategy may work for us when we’re children, but it’s self-defeating when we’re adults.
We do grow up; we do get free of our families; we do get jobs, lovers, our own children. That seems to prove that the self-testing strategy works. Since we’re obviously still a long way from being good enough, so we’d better keep questioning ourselves in order to improve.
And if we can’t change a pattern, that means we have a great and permanent defect, an evil place inside of us, maybe too much ego, and we’re doomed to fail forever. And that feeds a vicious cycle:
Low self-confidence and low self-esteem --> so we give up ourselves even more --> we pick the wrong people and try to please them by doing what they want --> we fail once again and feel even worse --> our self-confidence and low self-esteem plummets -->…
So what can we do to find love and relationships that fit?
Instead of testing ourselves, we can test the world.
Act like we are and set high standards for behavior we want. We’re reasonably good, nice, decent people. Therefore, in addition to participating in the other person’s activities, ask the other person to participate in ours. Don’t justify our standards. Be behaviorally specific. Ask for more than vague words like “kindness, respect, appreciation, love.” Simply say, “No yelling, no hitting, no threatening, no relentless sarcastic blaming, no controlling, no public humiliating, no demanding perfectionism. Instead, speak softly, negotiate about what we do, give in and do what I want sometimes for no reason, keep disagreements private and my sense of humor counts.” We can fill in the rest of our lists from what we got or didn’t get in previous relationships.
“Create an isle of song in a sea of shouts.” Rabindranath Tagore said that decades ago. I agree. We were told that if we insist on our high standards and what we want, we’ll end up alone. “The only way to get someone is to lower your standards.” Nonsense. Of course, in all relationships we make agreements and we don’t always get our way, but we must not lower our important standards.
Now that we’re adults, now that we’ve been in and out of relationships in which we gave up our true selves, we’ve learned that we’ll never get the love we want if we fill our space with inappropriate, abusive bullies. We’ll never get what we need if we give up on ourselves. We’ll only get what we need, we’ll only find someone who loves us for ourselves if we act like ourselves and test the other person to see if they like that.
Of course the other person has free will also. They can stay or leave if they want. But if they leave because they don’t want to live up to our standards or they think we’re incompatible, we have to get over the emotional pain and be thankful that our isle is clear for someone else who wants to be with us as we are.
Only one of many examples: A homely, awkward girl with a wonderful personality and spirit. Of course, during high school and college she was rejected by all the boys who were looking for cheerleaders. As much as she wanted to be wanted, she knew in her heart that she didn’t want jerks like that and she wasn’t going to abandon herself in order to please one. Then she met someone who was worthy of what she wanted. And wonder of wonders, he was hot for her, body and soul. They’re still enthralled with each others’ unique greatness and with their fit with each other.
How can we improve if we’re not always testing ourselves? It’s simple, although not necessarily easy. We know when we haven’t lived up to our standards, when we’ve done or not done something we should have. We don’t have to beat ourselves up in order to apologize, make amends and do better next time. We simply dedicate ourselves to that task.
Relentless beatings. These instill fear and terror. Children can become convinced they’re always wrong and the price for mistakes is high; maybe even maiming or death. The result can be adults who’re afraid to make decisions, assert or defend themselves, think they’re worthy of respect or good treatment. The result can be adults who expect to be bullied, punished, abused or even tortured.
Relentless and personal criticism, hostility and questioning. The results can be the same as relentless beatings. Kids grow up thinking that no one will help or protect them. Emotional beating can leave even deeper scars. Adults often have mental and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, self-mutilation and suicide.
The “Big Lie:” “You don’t know what’s really happening.”
The first two seem fairly obvious and much has been written on them. Let’s focus on the Big Lie.
Kids have emotional radar. They’re born with the ability to sense what’s going on. Their survival depends on knowing who’s friendly or hostile, who’s calm or angry, who’s reliable and trustworthy, and who’s liable to explode without obvious provocation. They know who’s nice and who hurts them. They sense when their parents or family are happy or angry.
The effects of being consistently told that they’ve gotten it wrong can be just as devastating as physical or emotional brutality. For example:
When kids sense that their parents are angry at each other, but they’re told that the family is loving and caring they learn to distrust their kid-radar.
When they’re yelled at, teased, taunted or brutalized, when they’re subjected to bullying, they know it hurts. But when they’re told that the parent cares about them or loves them, or that they’re too sensitive, they start to distrust their own opinions.
When they can never predict what’s right or wrong, they can grow up thinking they’re evil, stupid or crazy.
When they’re constantly challenged with, “Prove it. You don’t know what’s really happening. How could you think that; there’s something wrong with you. If you were loving, grateful, caring, you wouldn’t think that way about your parent or family.”
Do you consistently doubt yourself? Do you even doubt that you see reality? Do you think that other people know better about you than you know about yourself?
Are you indecisive and insecure? Do you worry, obsess or ruminate forever? Do you solicit all your friends’ opinions about what you should do or just one friend who seems to be sure they know what’s best? Do you consistently look for external standards or experts to tell you what’s right or proper? Do you complete quick tests of ten or twenty questions that will tell you the truth about yourself?
Do you feel bullied but you’re not sure that you are? Do you let other people tell you about what’s too sensitive or what’s reasonable or “normal?”
A typical tactic of sneaky, manipulative bullies is to convince their well-meaning targets to try to make the bullies happy. Although covert bullies and control-freaks aren’t usually so clear, straightforward and blunt about it, what they say is, “You’ve made me unhappy. It’s your fault that I’m upset, angry, violent and abusive. If you only acted the way I want, I’d be happy and nice. It’s your responsibility to make me happy.”
Common examples of this tactic are:
A covert bully in the workplace will get hysterical and claim to have low morale until you give her everything she wants in order to calm her down and raise her morale. You’ll have to keep the goodies coming because she’ll never trust you; every day you’ll have to convince her anew by doing what she wants. An overt bully at work will use the same approach as an abusive spouse for outrageous acts of bullying, abuse and violence.
Facing the temper tantrums of two year-olds, you’re teaching them how to get what they want from you; by being nice or by being nasty. You’re also training them how to feel when they don’t get what they want. They learn whether it’s okay to fight you as if not getting what they want is the end of the world or if they have to develop more self-discipline and control. Once you’re defeated by a two year-olds’ temper tantrums, you’ll have to do what they want forever, or else. The best way to create a spoiled brat is to accept the task of providing for their happiness. The worst consequence of your giving in is that they’ll grow up convinced that they can’t be happy unless they’re catered to.
Using surly, grumpy, demanding, entitled behavior, teenagers can manipulate or browbeat their parents. Teens will claim that if they fail in life, it’ll be your fault because you didn’t give them enough. Or they’ll threaten to hurt themselves or damage the house if you upset them. However, your job is to turn the responsibility around. You might give them things if they make you like it, not if they try to beat you into giving them what they want. See the case study of Paula in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
In all these situations, sneaky, manipulative, covert, stealthy bullies try to get what they want by using emotional blackmail and name-calling. For example, if you don’t give them what they want, “You’re insensitive, selfish and uncaring” or “You’re not a nice person” or “You don’t understand how I feel, what I’ve lived through or how hard it is for me” or “You wouldn’t want me to repress what I feel. I don’t have any control over what I feel.”
Their hidden assumption is that other people (you) are responsible for their attitudes, moods and happiness. They have no control over how they feel about getting or not getting what they want. Also, they have no control over how they act when they’re upset. And, therefore, your job is to make them happy.
Their bullying and abuse will continue and escalate. If you accept the responsibility to please them in order to get them to treat you decently, you’ll give them what they want and all they have to do to keep you giving is never to be satisfied. Since you’re responsible for their feelings and actions, there will always be more things you have to do to please them.
For example, you can say, “I’m not responsible for how you feel and act. You are. I don’t have to make you happy. You can choose how you feel and what you do, no matter what’s happening. I’m going to focus only on behavior and decide whether to keep you around based only on your actions. Your reasons, excuses and justifications won’t count.”
And then you have to make the consequences count.
If a stealthy, manipulative bully says, “You’re being selfish,” you can respond with, “Thanks for noticing.” And you keep doing what you were doing.
The tactics they use tell you how close you want people to be; how close you want to let them come to your wonderful, peaceful, joyous island.
Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller. She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures.
If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame. Amy Chua is an abusive bully.
She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.” Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
“Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
“Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.
What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?
She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet. I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”). If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
There’s almost no joy in their lives. Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise. But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning. There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.
Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost.
This is a great and necessary value. It has made our society the first world. But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.
No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks. She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection. That’s why people take it so personally. Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons. These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.
Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx. She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon. When she grew up she sued him.
A better approach:
Have you observed your children individually and carefully? One approach does not fit them all.
Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own? Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out? This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own? Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you? How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
Character is critical. All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs. What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it. You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.
By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices. In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her. That’s not the answer either.
All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.
There’s a wonderful and stimulating article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” It’s sub-titled, “Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?”
The sub-title’s focus on creating happy kids just points to the difference in approach that Chua is focusing on.
One important quote is, “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.”
I’m not throwing in an opinion yet but I’m sure that it’ll stimulate you.
If used well, blame and guilt don’t lead to self-bullying. They’re useful ways of motivating us to do better, even though they can cause a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, minds and hearts.
If we analyze our actions objectively we might take on the blame for some of what we did or failed to do. We can decide how to make amends. We can decide what actions would be better and we can strive to do better next time.
We can also use guilt and feeling ashamed of an action to motivate us to act better next time. That’s a hard way of motivating ourselves but it’s often effective.
Unrelenting and deep shame, on the other hand, leads to destructive self-bullying – negative self-talk, self-doubt and self-harassment, loss of confidence and self-esteem, and increased anxiety and depression.
By shame, I mean the idea that “There’s something wrong with me; I’m bad, evil or defective; I’ll never be free from sin; I’ll never succeed; I’m cursed.”
This kind of deep shame, as opposed to the way I’m using blame, guilt and feeling ashamed, is not focused on an action. This kind of deep shame points us at supposed defects deep within us, at defects that we can’t change, at defects in our identity. There’s no escape from the flaws we imagine are inherent and permanent. The self-laceration of this kind of shame is endless and self-defeating.
Where does this deep shame come from? We’re not born with this kind of shame. We’re born demanding that we be fed, clothed and have our diapers changed. Little babies don’t question whether they deserve to get what they need for survival; they demand it. That demanding approach is necessary for our survival.
Deep shame can only be taught to us through continued and brutal repetition – physical, verbal, emotional. Eventually, most children internalize constant harassment, criticism, put-downs and denigration – assaults on our identity.
Imagine how you’d feel if someone shouted or scolded you, 24/7, “You’re bad. You’re defective. You’re wrong. You shouldn’t have been born. You’ll never do better. I wish you were dead.”
However those harsh and shaming messages were thrown at us, whoever the bullies were, our task as adults is to leave them behind. The two critical steps in leaving home are to leave physically and to leave mentally-emotionally.
The first leaving is obvious to most of us; we get financially independent in order to stay physically independent. We test ourselves against the world, not our parent’s opinions. Can we earn a leaving? Can we meet people and make friends? Can we love and be loved?
The second leaving is mental, emotional and spiritual. We put aside all their beliefs, ideas, attitudes, values, opinions, rules, roles and moods – all the ways they thought mattered in how to face the world, how to earn a living, what equaled a good life, how to be a good person.
We put aside all the false ways they thought about us – whether we were good or bad, strong or weak, stupid or smart, pretty or ugly, hard-working or lazy, the prized child or the scapegoated child, probably going to be successful or guaranteed to fail, blessed to be happy or doomed to be miserable.
We put aside all we were handed when we were children and all we accepted because they were the big, right and righteous people and we were the little and learning people, and because we knew what would happen to us if we disagreed.
To become independent adults we must cast aside all of their opinions and, as independent no-longer children, we must choose and adopt our own beliefs. Some may be the same as theirs; some may be exactly the opposite.
The two important aspects of that mental, emotional and spiritual leaving: One is that our ideas are now adopted by us as adults, with our adult understandings, meanings and limitations. The second is that they are not carved in stone as childhood ideas are. We change them as we get feedback from the world – does this idea actually fit the reality I can now see clearly with adult eyes; does this way of facing the world get me closer to what I want; does it help me be and do good as I now think of that?
In this destroying and creating anew our inner world and our ideas of the ways of the outer world, we can choose whether to keep blame or guilt. But, in order to be free and independent, we must discard deep shame as a way of thinking about ourselves and of facing the world. We can excise the stain we once accepted, we can heal the great empty space we once had, and we can fill us with ourselves at our best. We can develop strength, courage and skill.
Then we can look back at the bullies in our family and decide whether to be with them at all or when and how to be with them. If they continue to bully us, if their bullying continues to trigger our self-bullying patterns we are better served by disconnecting, by making distance – electronically and physically.
If they treat us as newly made adults they’ve just met and want to be friends with, instead of forcing us back into their old images, instead of continuing to try to beat us into the shape they want we will probably want to be with them sometimes.
My recommendations: Don’t stay where you’re continually blamed, guilted or shamed. Be where you’re respected, appreciated, honored. Also, don’t accept the one of you that continually blames, guilts or shames you. Train and discipline yourself so that you have better internal self-talk. Live with the good inner coach you create, not with the internal bully who sounds like your parents, still ripping you down.
An article by Hillary Stout in the New York Times, “For Some Parents, Shouting is the New Spanking,” focuses on the damage to children done by parents’ shouting and, therefore, the need for parents to control their tempers.
Although I agree that a steady diet of shouting and bullying isn’t a good way for well-meaning, devoted parents to act, the experts in the article miss the real source of the problem and, therefore, the real solution.
Those experts point out that the proper way to be a good parent is “never spank their children,” “friend our teenagers,” “spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings,” “reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3” and “have a good interaction based on reason.”
I disagree with their basic assumptions about good parenting and their solution that parents should control their tempers.
Of course, repeated sarcasm, criticism, beatings and abuse are bad parenting. I’m talking here to frustrated, well-meaning, devoted parents; not abusive bullies.
Good parenting sometimes involves spanking, has nothing to do with “friending,” is not focused on teaching children to merely understand their feelings and is not usually about good interactions based on reason. Reason is only a small part of being an effective parent, especially when the children are young.
Children are exquisitely adept at knowing your true limitations and which buttons to push. It’s a survival skill for them. They know exactly how many times you’ll yell before you act. They distinguish between yelling and threatening that won’t be followed up, and the “Mom” or “Dad” look and voice that means you will act. And they perform a precise calculus based on how much they’ll get the next time versus a punishment and your guilt this time. They know when they can get unreasonable and stubborn, and win. They also know that if you blow up and yell now, they’ll win later.
What leads to repeated shouting is frustration. Those parents have so limited their allowed responses that they’re no longer effective – the kids know that they don’t have to do what the parents want and nothing serious will happen. Those parents have taught their children to be stubborn and unreasonable in order to win. See the case study of Paula as she stops being bullied by her daughter Stacy in "How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks."
Those parents’ lack of creativity and effectiveness increases their frustration until they blow up and shout. Then those parents feel guilty, apologize, give the kids more power and set in motion the next cycle of not getting listened to leading to more frustration and further shouting.
The solution is for parents to take charge and be parents – speak and act straight. Decide – as age, stage and specific kid appropriate – what decisions you make and when the child simply must obey, and what decisions the kid gets to make and within what limits. In your areas, it’s nice if the child understands your needs and reasons, but you’ll never convince a two or sixteen year-old by reasoning that your way is best and they should be happy not getting what they want.
Sometimes you must be firm about your sense of urgency, which is not matched by theirs. Sometimes, your needs and wishes must be taken into account. You’re not their slave or servant all the time. They don’t get what they want every time. More important than helping them understand their feelings is teaching them how to deal effectively when they’re feeling demanding or angry or frustrated or needy.
And some kids seem to want to be punished sometimes. Really, they do. And they feel much better afterward. When you’ve gone through the sequence of reminding and timeout without effect, a spank is sometimes the best thing to do.
Your frustration and shouting is a message to you that you’re not being effective. You need to do more than merely learn the latest technique; you need to change the limits you place on yourself. That will open up other ways to making them do what you need when you’re under pressure.
Good parenting means that you can say, “Here’s the way it is. I need to move fast and I insist that you do the same.” Or “You don’t vote on this decision and we’ll talk about it later.” Of course, you will talk about it later. Or “I’m not taking you there today. I need to unwind right now over a latte. I love you. Now go read and leave me alone for a while.” Of course, most of the time we devoted parents will take them to places they want to go.
Don’t reason more than once with a five year-old who doesn’t want to brush her teeth, “You’re making a bad decision,” as those experts suggest. Simply say, “In our family, we brush our teeth, so you will.”
It’s not, as those experts say, that “Yelling parents reflect a complete inability to express themselves in any meaningful, thoughtful, useful or constructive way.” It’s that yelling parents aren’t allowing themselves to express the right thought, which is that “I, the parent, am drawing the line here and you will do what I want. I have good reasons. I hope you understand now and I know you’ll understand later. But even if you don’t understand, you will do what I want now.”
In addition to what I learned professionally, we have six, now-grown children who taught me that well-meaning parents yell when they’re irritable, anxious, pressured, overwhelmed and frustrated because they don’t know how else to make things work for them
Most people believe that happy employees are more productive, treat each other better and give better customer service. That’s not true.
When human resource departments push employee satisfaction initiatives at work, too often they encourage the most selfish, negative and hostile employees to harass, bully and abuse coworkers and supervisors.
Of course, I’m not encouraging companies to mistreat their employees. But I am encouraging leaders to question the assumed correlation between happiness and productivity, between satisfaction and teamwork.
Here’s why. Usually, mediocre and poor employees and managers are happiest when they work less and are held to lower standards. They want or feel entitled to whatever makes them happy, but they won’t pay for those rewards by increased productivity.
These people often want to rule the roost. When they’re empowered by being listened to, they become mean, vindictive and cruel. They use their power to increase bullying and abuse of the most productive employees and managers, and of people they simply don’t like.
I’ve seen that time and time again. So have you. Think of all the people you work with. Ask yourself questions about each one individually, “If that person was in charge, what would happen – who are their favorites; what corners would they cut; are they lazy, negative, hyper-critical slackers; are they gossiping, back stabbing rumor mongers; would they try to bring everyone into the team?”
Don’t have HR departments do these surveys; they’ll get lied to. Use written surveys but don’t pay much attention to them; people expect them but you won’t get the critical people-information you need. Conduct skillful personal interviews with the right employees to identify the people or departments whose poor attitudes thwart or destroy productivity.
Ask the most productive employees, “What would make you more productive (effective, efficient)?” Focus on, for example, better operational systems, better technology and better coworkers.
Give your most productive employees and managers what they need to be more productive. The technology and systems are usually straightforward areas. Critical to your success is constant churning of your poorest employees and managers so the most productive ones can be even more productive.
Ask the most productive employees, “What rewards do you want for being even more productive?” Give them much of what they want. Remember, one highly productive employee is worth at least two poor ones.
HR usually distracts and detracts from efforts to increase customer service or productivity. HR tends to focus on surveying and catering to the happiness of all employees, which does not increase customer satisfaction. HR usually doesn’t survey customers and you don’t want them to.
Focus your own efforts on measuring productivity and customer service.
As a leader, if you say, “I don’t know who my most productive employees are,” or “I don’t want to hurt the feelings of employees or managers that I don’t interview” you’ve just shown that you aren’t doing your job.
Give your best employees what they need or you’ll stimulate turnover of the people you need to keep.
More important than distracting questions and considerations about how much they do it, why they do it or do they do it more or differently than men, are:
Do you recognize the early warning signs of bullies?
Do you know how to stop them skillfully?
Women often say that other women aren’t as overt about bullying; they’re more likely to be stealth bullies. Some use tactics that are sneaky, manipulative, backstabbing; some form cliques and start rumors or demeaning put-downs; some pretend to be friends and bad mouth you behind your back; some are negative, whining, complaining “professional victims;” some are passive-aggressive. And some can be nit-picking, control-freaks just as much as men.
How about Meryl Streep and other unsavory characters in “The Devil Wears Prada?”
Some are splinters, rotten apples and cancers – at all levels in your organization. Just like men who bully.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
In her article in the Wall Street Journal, “When women derail other women in the office,” Rachel Emma Silverman comments on Peggy Klaus’ article in the New York Times, “A Sisterhood of Workplace Infighting.”
Both discuss an estimate that female office bullies who commit verbal abuse, sabotage performance or hurt relationships, aim at other women more than 70% of the time. Both discuss the psychological reasons why women hurt other women and why they don’t protect them.
If we don’t stop bullies, they’ll think we’re easy prey. Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.
When women and men learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, we develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. We need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies we face – men or women.
Often, the strong and clear voice of an outside consultant and coach can change these behaviors or empower managers and staff to remove these bullies. I’ve often helped companies and even non-profits and government agencies create and maintain behavioral standards (team agreements, ground rules for professional behavior) that promote productivity.
There are many methods that even well-meaning parents use to raise spoiled brats instead of wonderful, creative, well-behaved, civil, strong children. The fundamental factor in raising arrogant, selfish, nasty brats is their parents’ consistency in attitudes, approach and actions.
The underlying attitude that creates demanding, bullying tyrants is that if children are never thwarted or forced to do what they don’t want to, they’ll be more creative and happy, and their self-esteem will be higher. This attitude is very prevalent among the helping professions; especially therapists and teachers.
What I say will anger people who think in black-while, all-none. Those are people who think that the only choices are total freedom and praise, or total repression and beatings. How silly to think that way.
What do you see other people doing to train their children badly?
My top 10 attitudes, approaches, techniques to create willful, domineering brats and teenagers are:
Always give them everything they desire. Don’t teach them that they might not get what they desperately want at the moment and that they can still be happy. Give them control of every decision. Never force them to do what you want. Instead, always try to get them to understand that you’re right so they’ll willingly do what you want them to.
Never show displeasure or tell them that they failed to meet your high expectations. Always tell them that their efforts are always good enough; no matter how good or pathetic the results.
Always tell them that they should succeed instantly or that what they can’t do, isn’t important. Also, tell them that hard work and struggle aren’t important. Blame everything that they don’t like on other people (bad friends, bad teachers, bad schools, bad society), not on their insufficient or mediocre effort. Always tell them that the world is supposed to be fair and make them happy.
Always let them misbehave without correction or consequences, instead of calmly applying consequences whether they like it or not. Hold your tongue or repeatedly tell them not to do something, but don’t actually do anything effective until you can’t stand it anymore and you throw a fit.
Always give in to their fits and temper tantrums in order to get them to stop. Train them that you’ll give them whatever they want if they throw fits in public.
Always excuse their bad behavior because they’re “cute” or “creative.”
Always allow them to avoid chores or helping out because it’s no fun for them.
Be afraid that if they’re angry, they won’t love you. Always try to be their confidant and best friend.
Never smack their bottoms or grab them to make your point or to let them know that sometimes they will do what you want, no matter what.
To raise spoiled brats, consistently give in to them and excuse their bad behavior. Of course that doesn’t prepare them to succeed in the real-world they’ll face as adults.
If you start these approaches with infants, you can create manipulative, demanding teenage bullies who think that they’re entitled to everything they want and you’re supposed to provide it. They’re the kind of children who may be living at home when they’re 40. And you’ll wonder why, deep down, you don’t like them any more than they like you.
Don’t try to make all your employees happy. But do make your best employees happy.
Do you recognize who the best employees and managers are?
We can’t define who the best are, but we all recognize them. They’re the ones with inspiration – the inner drive to accomplish things and succeed. At all levels, they’re superstars and solid, steady, productive professionals. They’re the beavers eager to learn, develop skills and be competent and productive. They want to be efficient and effective. They take responsibility and they care.
They’re the ones who anchor a culture of success. They keep communication channels open and they get along well enough with other productive individuals in order to make their teams succeed. They take care of customers and teammates. They partner with employees on other teams when success depends on joint effort. They’re the low-maintenance people we can count on.l
It’s a pleasure to make them happy. They appreciate your efforts and respond with more of their own.
You can generalize by thinking that your organization has about 15% stars and 75% solid producers – all in that group of high quality employees you want to keep happy.
Don’t try to make them happy. It’s an impossible task. You’d have to cater to them and give away your organization to them. Instead, good leaders and managers help them go somewhere else. Maybe they’ll be happy at another company or maybe you can get them a job in a competitor’s organization.
Give your time, energy and goodies to your high quality employees. How? You don’t need my top 10 list to get started making your best employees happy. Maximize their chances for success. Give them all the training, equipment, operating systems and support they need to succeed. To high quality people, accomplishment is an aphrodisiac. Beyond that – ask them. Every individual will have an individual list of desires – training, opportunities for advancement, cleansing their environment of losers, more flex-time and money, etc. Then do your best to give it to them.
What if there’s more than 15% bottom feeders at your company, and management doesn’t care? Be one of the best employees. Try to get the attention of leaders. If that doesn’t work, go be a best employee at your competitor’s company.