They refused to give him the information he needed. He heard himself groveling. Of course, he did not like it, but what choice did he have. He felt powerless. At the next meeting, he brought in goodies and tried his best to please them. Can you think of ever being in a situation like this or know someone else? It is far more common than you can imagine.

Having coached leaders in the corporate world for years, I have come across so many people who put up with being treated with lesser than their fair share of respect and credibility. It generally is not correlated to their expertise and performance. In fact, it may not even depend on seniority. I was once working with a people manager who avoided giving complex tasks to this one team member because she complained whenever she was asked to do anything a little challenging.

Some examples of bad behaviour can be:

  • Being talked over and not listened to
  • Constant finger-pointing for your mistakes even if there aren't any
  • Undermining or sabotaging of your work
  • Withholding information
  • Submitting delayed or shoddy work by team member
  • Repeated absenteeism of subordinate

People that put up with such behaviours are generally submissive, accommodating to a fault or passive. It means shying away from saying or acting out what you really want. Giving up on seeking to achieve your needs, especially when others may have conflicting demands. A submissive person avoids upsetting others out of fearing them in some way, or they fear to hurt their feelings. Some people have a quiet demeanour and are quite happy to go along with what others prefer, which is fine. If submissiveness comes from a place of power, it is not harmful. You will have the strength to not put up with rude encounters. If not, then you are a pushover. A pushover is someone who is easy to overcome or influence. Pushovers convince themselves that they are virtuous for caring for the feelings of others. Not realising that it is happening at the expense of their own sentiments.

Then why do people do this?

If you care too much about what people think of you, you work hard to make sure they say good things. Which means your actions will be geared towards making them happy. You want people to like you. We all love being liked. Pushovers like it above everything else. Sometimes they are willing to let their self-respect go, to fulfil this need to be accepted.

The fear of not belonging lies underneath this need. Human beings are social animals. The need to belong to a social group is inherent in us. This need to belong drives us to seek stable, deep relationships with people. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, belongingness is one of the fundamental needs of motivating human behaviour.

Here is what you can do if you find yourself stuck in these situations:

  1. You have to build your personal power and practice courage. Notice how you are making yourself an easy target and letting people walk all over you. Remember, if you are tolerating such actions, you are encouraging them. Instead of feeling like a victim, take ownership.
  2. Create boundaries. Do that by setting limits. Reflect on how much you are willing to put up with. Often it is difficult to push back. If something makes you sad or angry after, that's a good indication that you will have to find a way to not let that happen again. This implies setting limits on what you are willing to tolerate.
  3. Sometimes you have to confront people with their own behaviour. I know this sounds scary, especially for a submissive person. Build confidence by taking baby steps towards it. You don't have to do it all at once. You can do this only after coming face to face with your fears and apprehensions.

You are not alone in putting up with undesirable behaviour. Many people struggle with this. It is possible to have cordial relationships with people and still stand your ground without succumbing to their needs. To be able to do that you have to investigate your more deep-seated fears and needs.

Bhavna Dalal
Bhavna Dalal

Views are personal.

The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book - Team Decision Making.

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