You Teach People How to Treat You

Written by Christine Kane

I was in Web Guy’s office a few weeks ago. He was having a moment of overwhelm about his client list. He talked about how some of his clients call on the weekends and late at night, and how many people don’t honor his schedule. He was frustrated and exhausted.

I allow people their moments of frustration in situations like this. So I listened. But seeing as how I also like to offer a more empowered perspective, I told him about a great thing I learned many years ago. It’s a fundamental truth that has served me (and those with whom I work and play) immensely. It is this:

You teach people how to treat you.

As soon as I said this, his eyes lit up. He couldn’t believe how simple it was. And the more we talked, the more excited he got. (I refrained from calling him “grasshopper.”)

The first time I ever heard this concept was when I saw Oprah in Raleigh, NC years ago. She presented this idea. Then she partnered it with another truth. She said (in that “Sistah!” way that she does when she’s being funny) “…and giiiiirl, when someone shows you who they are… bee-LEEVE them the FIRST TIME!” (She repeated this one a lot. She was talking about abusive relationships.)

So, what does it mean?

You teach people how to treat you means that it all comes back to you. It’s up to you to allow or not allow certain treatment. It also means that you have to first get clear about how you want to be treated. It means that you have to take responsibility enough to write your own owner’s manual. And you are accountable for living by your owner’s manual. For some of us, it may be the very first time we ever even gave this any thought.

(Remember that accountability and responsibility have nothing to do with blame. They are an entirely different energy and intent than blame. Blame seeks to shame and belittle. Responsibility seeks to un-victim you.)

There are lots of levels to this. For instance, when I began working with this idea, I spent time writing down basic guidelines, like, “I do not allow people to yell at me. I do not allow verbal abuse.” These days, I don’t need these kinds of guidelines because I’ve simply absorbed my own owner’s manual, and I don’t have to think about it. I’m very clear about who I am in almost every situation in my life. That has come from practicing this stuff and messing up a few times too! (And to add a little Law of Attraction note to the end of it — now, I no longer even attract some of these issues that used to be everywhere in my world!)

Bottom line: You teach people how to treat you means that you’re clear. And that you honor that clarity.

Teach People How to Treat You: The Four Steps

1 – Start by Knowing What You Want (and What You Don’t Want)

This a great writing exercise. Write what you want. Pick an area of your life where you feel like you’re not being treated well. Write down how you’d like to be treated. If you can’t think of what you want, then write about what you don’t want.

I typically don’t recommend focusing on what you don’t want. However, sometimes what you don’t want is a great starting point to clarity. For instance, when I first began to apply this work to my performance dates, I knew that I no longer wanted to stay in rooms or hotels that scared me. (You’d be amazed at how often promoters put musicians in the worst dives imaginable. I was teaching promoters how to treat me.) Several times, I had to ask the promoter of a show to move my hotel. Eventually, I made my contract rider very clear about what I wanted in a hotel room.

Depending on your situation, you’ll have some obvious beginning points. If you’ve been in abusive relationships, then start with “I do not allow people to abuse me.” If you’re tired of people wasting your time by calling you up to relate the latest office drama, you might write, “I don’t allow people to gossip in my presence.” For some of my readers, these ideas will be no-brainers. But you might be surprised at how many of us allow these kinds of interactions to occur in our lives.

If you’re like Web Guy and you’re learning to teach clients how to treat you, then start by writing a “Client Guide.” Write down exactly how you want your clients to deal with you. Then write some Company Guidelines to give to new clients before they pay you anything. Get clear at the start. As I wrote in Business Advice for Artists and Sensitive People, so many of us just hire people or take clients without any clarity. We just hope that the “connection” stays in tact.

2 – Learn from your Current Situation

Ask yourself how you’ve allowed certain behavior from others in your life. Take one situation where you’re tempted to see yourself as a victim, or where you feel mistreated. Ask yourself how you allowed this to happen. You’ll be amazed at how often you may have ignored your own needs or desires.

Often, this process lets you know where you get triggered or hooked. For instance, you might find yourself saying, “Well, he makes me feel guilty if I don’t do it his way!” Bingo. There’s your trigger. The guilt. Acknowledge that you still allowed it. Maybe you allowed it begrudgingly, but you allowed it so that you could avoid feeling guilty. Then, recognize that guilt is going to be something that makes you want to ignore your own owner’s manual. This is a valuable thing to know about yourself.

In my hotel room example, I recognized that I had allowed years of unacceptable treatment on the road because I had such a fear of making waves. In one scenario, when I told the promoter I wanted my hotel changed, she retorted, “Everyone stays there! No one has ever complained before!” And I could feel myself shrinking. “But all the kids are doing it!” has been a trigger for me. (So has, “You’re lucky to even have a gig!”) But because I had gotten clear that “I don’t stay in hotels that scare me,” I was able to honor my needs in that situation.

3 – Honor It and Practice It

Here’s the deal: This is a process, not an event.

There’s a learning curve to this. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s not just suddenly telling a client not to call after hours. When you’ve taught people how to treat you one way, it might take some time to change that pattern.

It might start with you letting a client know that you’ve set a new intent to spend more time with your children, and that you won’t be available for calls on the weekend. Maybe the client calls anyway. Maybe you get hooked in by the guilt. Then you feel awful afterwards, and you feel angry at that client. This just means that you need to get clear again. So, you let that client know again not to call on weekends, and that you’d like her to honor your request. You don’t have to get emotional about it. In fact, the less you get sucked in by your emotions, the better this works.

Note: Try not to communicate when you’re in a highly charged emotional state. When you’re in this state, you’re probably not teaching people how to treat you. You’re probably blaming them and making yourself into the victim. Wait until you get calm, then start at step #2 (“How did I allow this?”) and take the necessary course of action to right the situation.

Remember that this stuff takes practice and self-awareness. It is not a process of emotion. It’s a process of clarity. (And mastery!)

4 – Teach Yourself How to Treat You When That’s the Only Choice

Not everyone is going to honor your requests or your clarity. And sometimes it’s going to have to be you who treats you well. If we go back to my hotel room example, there have been times where contractually, I didn’t have much of an option in terms of getting a better hotel room. And so, I ended up paying for my own room and driving myself to a better hotel. “I don’t stay in hotel rooms that scare me” means that I don’t allow it. Period. If I don’t honor that, then I won’t feel safe with me. It has always made me happy and proud to get my own room when I needed to. You have to include yourself in this equation. If you’ve told your clients that you don’t take non-emergency calls on weekends, then you might not want to make business calls on weekends. This is how you learn to honor yourself.

And Now, for the Scary Part…

I wrote a post about taking risks a few weeks ago. Lots of times we think of taking risks, and we think about big ideas like moving to another city, starting a business, or leaving a bad relationship. But the longer I do this work, the more my risk-taking has become internal. Yes, there are big external material risks at times. (Every time I make a CD I’m taking a risk!) But these days, some of the internal risks are the scariest, because they call me to be true to myself and to honor my boundaries and my intentions. That’s where lots of us forget to stay in risk-taking mode.

The biggest risk involved in teaching people how to treat you is the risk that some of them might go away. Some friends might not call you anymore. Some clients might leave. In my situation, I might simply not get the performance date. You have to be willing to surrender those things that aren’t in alignment with how you want to be treated. They necessarily must go away. And the test is to let them.

One of the things that keeps you hanging on to them is a belief in lack. A belief that there’s not enough. There aren’t enough jobs, clients, gigs, men, women, whatever. And one of the best ways to find out that there are more than enough of these things is to be brave and selective, live by your values and standards, and watch what you do attract. You might be scared. But you won’t be disappointed.

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{78 comments ... read them below or add one}

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{78 comments ... read them below or add one}

Vidya May 29, 2012 at 4:57 am

Hi Christine,
I have to say, I stumbled upon the perfect article for my question on how to deal with people without letting yourself down. Yeah, I agree with every bit you said. People do take you for granted if you do not set limits. Thank you!


Bill January 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

I have had sisters who as they got older have had issues with me. I would see them out and about and they were extremely hateful. I realized that , I teach people how to treat me even before reading this. I have not allowed these people to speak to me or in the life of my family.
One day they will run out of people to hate and grow old and alone.

I have had neighbors that are in there 40′s and act like gossipy 13 yr olds . I simply tried to go with the flow but got angry when I found out the tricks and illegal games they played to get back at others. I told them to get and so did the other neighbors. I feel peace now and they still play their same games.

I am able to smile again and be happy !


Virginia May 27, 2013 at 11:40 pm

“The biggest risk involved in teaching people how to treat you is the risk that some of them might go away. Some friends might not call you anymore. Some clients might leave. In my situation, I might simply not get the performance date. You have to be willing to surrender those things that aren’t in alignment with how you want to be treated. They necessarily must go away. And the test is to let them.”

Christine, I think this statement is very true in my situation. My sister was mistreating me, and when I told her how I wanted to be treated, I think she did go away. She doesn’t call me or visit me anymore. She also denies everything she did to mistreat me, and says that she didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t call her either, because I feel if she thinks that what she did was not wrong, she’ll do it again if I keep in contact with her. Plus she also has other people on her side that mistreated me too, and she always agrees with their opinions. I feel that there’s nothing much I can do, but stay away from her.


Nicole Reply:

Sad to read your experience….me and my sis have been estranged since my mother passed last year. All over some really selfish thinking. I sent her a nice email wanting to forgive and forget but she does not want to…I feel sad, but at the same time I know she is deciding what she can and can’t handle at this point in her life and I have to just respect her for that even if I don’t agree with holding grudges:(


carol December 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm

It’s true that setting limits is important for clear communication. I have to say however, to suggest that it is the responsibilty of the one being treated badly is giving people permission to be disrespectful, abusive or worse, to assault others. How about focussing on treating people in a manner that is kind and respectful?


Joyce Brand May 2, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Love the article! I have recently reaped the benefits of taking care of myself and having to let go of the fear of losing people over it, which I have. We are responsible for our own well being and allowing or disallowing people (including ourselves) to mistreat us. I have found by practicing self care/love that I am much less likely to let others treat me poorly. It’s an inside job as they say.


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