Do You Reward Inappropriate Behavior?

Robert Terson

My mother, Sophie, who passed away over 12 years ago, had a lifelong friend Therese. Therese was a powerful personality—she never hesitated to let you know what she thought about politics, business, culture, you name it. She was politically as far to the right as it gets; if she were still alive today (she passed away years before Mom), she’d be lined up with the Obama haters and talking up a storm to anyone who’d listen to her. I used to roll my eyes and walk away.

My mother, on the other hand, was the antithesis of a powerful personality—a real pushover. For Mother’s Day one year I bought her a bunch of books. One of them was entitled The New Assertive Woman; if she ever read it, it didn’t take. I was always trying to get her to stand up for herself, to not let other people push her (including Therese and Mom’s two husbands) into doing things she clearly didn’t want to do, but it was a losing effort. Everyone loved my mother—a sweeter, kinder woman never lived—but, unfortunately, she didn’t love herself enough.

One story that clearly stands out in my memory is the time Therese phoned her late at night to “ask” my mother to go with her to the south side of Chicago. Therese had an accounting business and she needed to see a client in an emergency situation and didn’t want to make the long trek alone from Morton Grove all the way to the south side of Chicago. My mother was already in bed and didn’t want to go. She did her best to say no, but Therese was her usual insistent self and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She just kept pushing and pushing until Sophie finally gave in.

She gave in all right but wasn’t happy about it. In fact, she was so unhappy about it that she talked my ears off about it for weeks.

“Mom, why didn’t you just tell her no?”

“I did, a few times!”

“So why didn’t just you keep saying no?”

She’d sigh, shake her head, say, “I wish I knew…”

I believe my mother, despite being one of the most terrific human beings I ever knew, had deep self-esteem issues; that’s why she couldn’t say no to people, why she couldn’t stand up for herself when others demanded she sacrifice her wants and needs for theirs. I loved her, but it really angered me that she allowed herself to be trampled so; that she rewarded this kind of inappropriate behavior by surrendering to it, instead of establishing the necessary boundaries to call a halt to it. Alas, confrontation for Mom was a pillar of fire she just couldn’t face.

What about you? Are you like Sophie? Do you allow others to trespass across your boundaries and push you into doing what you really don’t want to do? Is it impossible for you to stand up for yourself? Do you hate confrontation more than you despise inappropriate pushy behavior? Are you afraid of confrontation to the point that you allow other people to walk all over you?

If you’re a salesperson, do you go along with management’s program when it clearly goes against what you know and believe are the best business practices? Are you being pushed into making quota, selling products and services that aren’t in other people’s best interest, when you should be concentrating on providing great value to your customers and prospects?

Imagine for a moment what your life—business and personal—would be like if you finally stood up for yourself, never again surrendered to inappropriate behavior, never again rewarded it. Are you bold enough to go there?

Ask Bogie said to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, “Here’s looking at you, kid!”


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