Most “nice” people seem so worried about offending others that they’re willing to get walked over to avoid any conflict before exploding in uncontrolled anger. I’ve been guilty of that. In recent years especially, I’ve been trying to improve, so I’ve been thinking about how to hold true to your beliefs while adapting to the world. Taking a lesson from my childhood dog Patrick, I think I’ve found the middle ground.
Communicate what you don’t want happening.
Patrick was the kind of mellow dog that would just go with the flow. Between two rounds of dog training, and my dad’s training, he was very well-behaved. After we got over our initial shyness of each other when we were both young, I’d immaturely tease him. Nothing harmful. No tail pullin’ or nothin’. I’d just poke his nose, and first he’d allow it, then he’d communicate that he didn’t like it by moving his snout. Or I’d try to stick my finger in his mouth and he’d go away. He never bit or growled at me, so I know I didn’t really cross any lines, although he did have some limits.
In the photos above, Patrick was hanging out in my dad’s room. That was also his favorite spot in the house. We later found out he had some back problems that might have agitated him earlier than we thought, so when my dad was brushing his fur coat with his hands or maybe going through his routine for training dogs, he accidentally crossed the line. Patrick communicated that very clearly by growling. I don’t recall anything else happening after that, no punishment or any form of discipline, so I think the message was clear and Patrick returned to his cheerful self.
People are subtle when others cross their lines. It’s there, in the nonverbal communication such as eye contact or tone of voice, so it’s just reading those psychological cues and adapting.
Throughout my career, in a field I only half-jokingly called “applied psychology,” I’ve met with very upset customers. They’re always like the dog that’s growling over something’s that’s upset them. It’s just a matter of finding what, fixing it, then they’re usually as happy as Patrick was. When colleagues tell me how you can’t trust customers or dislike talking with them, I always file those thoughts under ignorance, because they’ll readily complain about everything, are ineffective at their work, and unwilling to change. They don’t politely stand their ground when presented with irrational behavior that crosses their lines, so they’re passive aggressive, and that lack of self-respect bleeds over to the rest of their lives.
I don’t let people pull my tail anymore. They don’t get the space to cross the line to offend me. I give them a firm look in the eye, tell them “no” with all of my courage, and they usually back off. In that way, like Patrick, I’m able to operate as a “nice” person that just happens to not allow any tail pullin’.