Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.
Occasionally I encounter someone whose behavior is the equivalent of inappropriate humping at the dog park. How should I respond?
How dogs handle bad behavior
When you’re hanging out with responsible people at the dog park, you’ll see two reactions to a dog who is acting bossy or inappropriately toward another one.
- Someone redirects the attention of the offending dog away from the dog they’re bullying.
- Someone tells the dog being bullied to let the other dog know they’re misbehaving.
People who understand dogs and spend time around them find it perfectly reasonable for one dog to tell another one it’s time to move on.
If you’re observant, you’ll find a series of escalating warnings starting with a head turned aside and ending with (hopefully) a snap or growl. Most dogs respond to correction from another dog long before things get dangerous.
Handling bad human behavior
Someone in my life has the manners of a poorly socialized dog at the park.
- He doesn’t respect other people’s boundaries.
- He’s rude.
- He treats everyone else as if they’re inferiors.
In other words, he’s the dog at the dog park running around humping everyone else.
My typical coping skill for dealing with difficult people is to appeal to their better nature. I assume they want to do the right thing and I talk to them as if I know they’re trying to do the right thing.
Some people call it flattery.
I choose to think most people will rise to the expectations set for them.
But that approach wouldn’t work in the dog park. And it doesn’t always work in life.
Handle bad behavior like a female dog
Last month I read a provocative article, Why Being a Jerk at Work Pays. The writer, Amy Reiter, wrote about how she realized that people at her job who didn’t observe social niceties got more respect. And as Reiter adapted her email style to be more direct without all the “thank yous” and “pleases,” she got more respect too.
I found another take on the same information while Stumbling last night. Adam Dachis on Lifehacker wrote, Being the Better Person will Teach People to Treat You Like Crap.
Both articles brought the same person to my mind.
But I don’t want to be a bitch
My reaction to the first article was that I didn’t want to be the kind of person who was curt—who didn’t have time for a kind word or little kindnesses that make the day more pleasant.
But something in the Lifehacker article made sense. It said that when you treat people who are jerks with kindness, you’re setting up a reward system for bad behavior.
It’s sort of like clicking and treating a dog every time he snaps at someone for no reason.
Positive reinforcement outside the dog park
From now on, I’m going to treat the rude and obnoxious people in my life a little differently.
I’m not going to be rude back. That would be unpleasant for me and everyone else around us. But I will work harder not to reward bad behavior.
And I’ll save my kindnesses for the people who deserve them. Just like Honey does.