Naughty vs. Nice – Need Advice on Dealing with a Difficult Co-Worker

I was recently told that I’m too nice. It sounds like a compliment, but it was meant more in the vein of, “People walk on you like a rug and it makes you look weak and ineffective.” Which is most definitely NOT a compliment. Though this was not news, as I am painfully aware of what prompted this statement and have been for a long while, it was eye opening to hear how this issue was viewed in the eyes of another. What I viewed as my “taking the high road” was to them, condoning unacceptable behavior. My lack of response to being treated disrespectfully was upsetting others and undermined their respect for me and their faith in my leadership ability. Ouch.

Naughty or NiceHere’s the rub…I believe in professionalism. OK, if you’ve read my blogs, you know that I have a flexible interpretation of professionalism that includes my sometimes inappropriate language and excessive sarcasm, so let’s agree that it’s a “Casual Professionalism”, but nevertheless a standard of behavior that includes being respectful to others. Golden Rule type stuff.

However, when confronted by unprofessional “not nice” behavior towards me, I find myself unable to find a PROFESSIONAL response. I’ve tried to discuss the offending behavior with the individual involved when we are outside of the workplace, which I thought was a genius plan. However, the response to that has been some version of “Get thicker skin.” or “Your feelings are YOUR problem, not mine.” Thus the behavior continues unabated. So now when it happens, my internal reaction is to spew profanity and threaten to stab the offending individual, which is obviously not appropriate for the workplace, while my outward reaction is to simply ignore the disrespecting behavior and proceed as if it never happened.

Since the behavior is often happening in front of co-workers and is now being noted by co-workers as inappropriate and disruptive, I need to step up and address the issue. So, my question to you, Dear Reader, is how does one acknowledge the behavior as inappropriate without being inappropriate oneself? Is there an international hand signal (not THAT one) or magic phrase that could be used?

I’m looking to diffuse an ugly situation in front of coworkers in a way that allows me to maintain my self-respect and re-establish an appropriate level of professionalism. All of the responses that I have formulated make me sound pathetic (“Please don’t snap at me.”) or like a schoolmarm (“There’s no need to be disrespectful, sonny!”). There HAVE to be better options out there.

I welcome you to share your experience and wisdom, but please keep in mind that I would like to stay on the Nice List this year. The Assertive, But Nice List.