Work: Three Suggestions for Keeping One’s Dignity

In an earlier column, I introduced a retail service worker who had expressed her frustrations with customers, managers, and the public in an open letter to her community.

The worker’s perception, in her own words, was “trying to keep one’s dignity while working in retail is very difficult indeed.”

This article is one in a series  on the workplace.
You can find the first article in the series here.

What could Choice Theory/Reality Therapy offer someone battling such woes? Let’s see.

Choice Theory recognizes that we have basic needs, and we’re not happy unless we can satisfy them. One of those needs is the need for power.

This worker’s perception is that other people have power over her: customers have the power to make her working life miserable and managers have the power to threaten her livelihood.

She needed to find a way to satisfy her power need, and chose to do so by writing a letter. After all, there’s nothing quite like telling someone off to satisfy your power need! Unfortunately, the resulting satisfaction is short-term, while unhappy long-term consequences tend to linger long after the immediate satisfaction has dissipated.

What other, more effective ways might one choose to satisfy the power need? Here are three suggestions.

1: Try changing your perception. If you perceive that someone else controls your dignity, then you’ll feel powerless. Changing a perception isn’t easy, but if you recognize that it is your perception, then it’s within your power to change it.

The experiment: Choose to consciously act as if you are in control of your dignity, that nothing anyone does can affect it.

At the end of the day, ask yourself, “How did that go? Was my working day better or worse as a result?”

2: Define the areas you can control. You’re at work for certain hours of the day, and you are not at work for the rest. You can choose to carry your work-related frustrations and indignities with you, or you can choose to leave them behind when you leave work.

The experiment: Leave work when you leave the workplace. When you are not at work, consciously choose activities that satisfy basic needs: fun, freedom, belonging.

Then check: Is that more effective or less effective for you than griping and continuously regaling your friends and family with workplace stories?

3. Act with dignity. According to the Choice Theory model of the behavioural system, what you do greatly influences how you feel. You can’t control what your customers do, but you can control what you do.

The experiment: Smile! Use your good manners, regardless of the behaviours of others. Deal with each person in the way you would like to be treated. Do this as a gift to yourself (even if you think your workplace or clientele doesn’t deserve it).

Then check: Do you feel happier and more dignified when you smile and do your job with dignity?

What approaches would you suggest are effective for keeping your dignity when others treat you badly?

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