“Do You Always…?”

I taught a workshop recently to a group of library staffers about how corporate and personal storytelling affects our work and personal lives.  One attractive young woman asked me how to handle a particularly uncomfortable situation where, as she put it, ‘dirty old men’ would hit on her.  The library has a policy of being courteous to patrons, and she was looking for a way to handle herself firmly yet respectfully.

I thought about it for a moment and went through several possible scenarios in my mind.  She could simply look them in the eye and say, “I would appreciate it if you don’t talk to me like that.  Let’s stick to library topics” and if it persists, ask for help from her manager.  That would be one option.  Then I remembered a strategy I have used in the past and it seems to interrupt their flow enough to make them realize what they are doing.  So I told her, “The next time this happens, look them in the eye and say firmly, ‘Do you always say inappropriate things to women you don’t know?’”  It’s important to appear confident, as ‘wolves’ tend to look for women who may not appear to know how to deflect such unwanted attention.  A strong voice and looking them in the eye lets them know that they aren’t dealing with a pushover.

In addition, we often have a habit of responding to what is actually said instead of naming the game, so to speak.  Naming the game with the “Do You Always” strategy (“Do you always say inappropriate things to women you don’t know? Do you always have a need to be right?”) allows you to address what’s really going on instead of getting stuck in a conversational loop.  It’s also important to keep your tone neutral, even curious.  The point is to manage yourself with dignity, not make them wrong.

Even so, quite often the person may respond with a defense or an attack (“Hey, I was only kidding.  You can’t take a joke?”), and I coached her to let it go if that happens and just say, “You know what I’m talking about” in a neutral tone.

I’ve learned along the way that the more I trust myself to handle myself effectively in a situation, the fewer situations or people I will avoid.  If I can learn and practice ways to handle difficult or uncomfortable situations, the less I feel the need to control the situation.

Taking care of ourselves around unpleasant people is a loving act.  There can be confusion between setting a boundary and being rude.  I’ve found that the “Do You Always” defense helps me to feel that I’ve looked out for myself and yet am respectful to the other person involved.  And that’s Love Applied.

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