By Marc Dickstein
Marc Dickstein is a coach, strategist, and consultant. You can find and connect with him on LinkedIn.
No one likes to be mistreated on a professional level: but unfortunately, it happens. Key context gets withheld, boundaries aren't respected, significant asks are posed at the very last minute.
Even when it's inadvertent (and it often is), it hurts and it's hard to make space in your life to deal with it. However, being mistreated can be one of the most meaningful opportunities you get to demonstrate what kind of leader you are and what you stand for. When you model the following three-step process, positive impacts reach far beyond your immediate sphere.
Step One: Cultivate Awareness
How truly present are you to what's going on and what you're feeling? Our brains and bodies are trained to operate on autopilot, often for the sake of speed and efficiency. And yet, rushing toward action greatly increases the likelihood that you'll emotionally react (and regret). As a public figure with power and privilege, quick reactions can have consequences beyond your intention, and can worsen the whole scenario. Even one deep breath will help you to slow down, increase your awareness, and thoughtfully respond.
Note the difference between these two approaches considered by a CMO, shortly after she was wronged by a colleague:
"He screwed me over, and I’m livid." vs. "Clearly something went very wrong here and the impacts are serious. I'm really disappointed and honestly pretty fearful of what this might mean for the relationship and my business."
Step Two: Prioritize Acceptance
This is the step that's most easily missed if you don't disable autopilot. Once you're aware of feelings like sadness, anger, frustration, or disappointment, acceptance may seem counterintuitive. However, when you pause and acknowledge how you're feeling, and accept that those emotions make sense in the moment, the actions you consider will better align with what you truly want.
This differs greatly from the experience of rushing directly from awareness into action. You may be inclined to reject, fight, or escape from uncomfortable feelings, but when your primary focus is getting away from what you don't want (or how you don't want to feel), there's no guarantee that you'll land any closer to what you actually do want.
Here's an example from a founder's journaling exercise:
When I consider what happened, it makes sense that I'd be feeling this way. In fact, I'd be surprised if I didn't feel this way. It sucks, and while I don't want to wallow in it, I can accept that these emotions have come up. I'm tempted to burn it all to the ground, but that's not really what I want, or care most about from a values perspective. I want to feel seen, heard, trusted, and I want to grow beyond this, together, not end it.”
Step Three: Collaborate
Once awareness and acceptance have cleared the way for consideration of what you want, it's time to act. No matter the goals at hand, your approach to action can make or break the scenario. An open, respectful, empathetic exchange ensures decisions based on truth, rather than untested assumptions. When you frame conversations around the value you're working toward (while also noting what to avoid), it creates an opportunity to repair any damage done and co-create a path forward. The process and outcomes in this case tend to be more satisfying (and sustainable!) than those born from dictated outcomes.