Stand Up For Yourself, Even When You Have Everything To Lose

They say sticks and stones will break your bones but words can never hurt you.

I beg to differ.

Because every time I’ve ever let someone talk down to me, I’ve felt like absolute garbage. And I think bad or negative encounters stay with us longer than we like to admit. There are some people in this world that are just plain nasty. You can be as sweet as pie to them and they always find a way to cut you down. Sometime we don’t even know how we feel until hours after the encounter occurs. In instances of confrontation I’ve always walked away, but I’ve learned to let the other person know that I’m not going to take it from them and their behavior is not acceptable.  Confidence is something that’s learned in time.

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The first time I’ve had a bad encounter was when I was working at Auntie Anne’s pretzels. 18 year old me as standing by the cash register selling hand rolled delicious pretzels. A customer had asked for extra butter on her cinnamon sugar pretzel and as I was putting in the bag after she had paid she says, “You’re disgusting. You just touched my pretzel with your hands.”

I said, “No ma’am, I’m using the tongs to grab these. But if you like I can give you another one”

“Okay, I want these.” She points to the cinnamon sticks which are 75 cents more.

“Okay, but those are the cinnamon sticks, they’re more than the regular pretzels. They’re 75 cents more.”

“Well, I don’t know why I should pay more for them.”

“You get more pretzels with it, that’s the price Ma’am.”

My coworker who sees me struggling, tells me to just give her the sticks for the same price.

“I usually can’t do this, but I’ll give these to you for the same price as the pretzels.”

“You know what, I should get these for free since you’ve wasted so much time.”

I’m starting to get really aggravated. “Sorry, I can’t give food for free”

We go back and forth like this and this nasty woman tells me I’m just a cashier and I’m a loser.

She takes the pretzel sticks and then throws it at me. This adult woman just threw food at me!!

I had never been attacked like that in my life and she literally just laughed as this 18 year old high schooler cried tears of anger and frustration.

That day I learned some people are just sadists and just take pleasure in hurting, humiliating and taking advantage of people in fast food.

That altercation sat with me for a few days. I wished I stood up for myself more and wondered what it was about me that gave that woman the impression I was someone to pick on.

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My first tour as a NYC rental broker was equally as bad of an altercation. It was literally my first day showing and my senior agent had these two recent grads looking for a 1BR under 2300 in midtown. And if you know Manhattan, you know that’s a dirt cheap rent anywhere. I had no idea what my senior agent Kevin had told these girls but I met them at the corner of 56th and Lexington and had them sign the Fee agreement for the apt they were about to see. I was so nervous. I wasn’t even trained on anything yet, and I probably came off as really green.

“Why do I have sign this?!” One of the girls demanded.

“There’s a fee with this apt. I can’t show this apt unless you agree to a brokers fee if you rent this”

The girls eyed me suspiciously, then signed it.

We went off to see the apt down the street.

“This is a terrible apt, not what we saw online. You wasted our time.”

I called Kevin to confirm that was the apartment they had called on. He confirmed and told me to ask them if they wanted to see any of our other apts in that price range.

I don’t remember what was said next but they were picking on me, double teaming me and complaining about, “how I switch and baited them and that the’ve seen better apartments with other agents.”

I just wanted the appointment to end. “Well, it sounds like I don’t have anything else to show that you would like, I’m sorry.” I said tersely.

“What a waste of time!”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” And then I left.

One block later I’m on the verge of tears wondering if I can really cut it in real estate.

I was happy that I kind of stood up for myself but hated that I felt so small.

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Today a client tried to move in a day early. These are literally professional hustlers and were fighting us every step of the way. They had their movers at the building. And were furious that they couldn’t move in rent free, one day early.

“You all knew we were trying to move in a day early!!” Professional finger pointers.

My manager was trying to resolve the problem but was making it worst with his lack of tact. “I’m sorry I can’t just give you these keys and have you get one days free rent.” ?????

These people were desperate to get keys with all their stuff ready to move so they started throwing my name under the bus. “I signed leases with Alex and we talked about this!”

I wanted to set the record straight so I went talk to the client and try to smooth things over with some understanding. He started saying how ridiculous the whole thing was and how we’re holding him and his girlfriend hostage by not giving him keys etc. He’s telling me we don’t know how to do our jobs. He was raising his voice and getting in my space.

A part of me felt small again, like that day I felt when the woman threw pretzels at me. But I was thinking, I don’t need to apologize and if this becomes a full out confrontation, I’ll just leave.

I said calmly, “you don’t need to talk to me like that.”

“You messed up our whole morning and my girlfriend is late for work, I’ll talk to you how I want to!”

Oh yeah? I threw my hands up and said, “I don’t need to indulge this.” I started walking away calmly and called him disrespectful.

I got over it but it was funny how everyone in the office was so quiet when he attacked me verbally. Not even my manager knew what to do. He later brownnosed his way back into the client’s good graces.

I told my manager, “I don’t care, one day I might get fired for not sitting down and taking it from client’s and I’ll just have to move on to the next property.”

He seemed shocked that I would be so bold and tell him he can’t make me be nice to these assholes.

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I’m actually a very introverted person and when people attack me for something that’s I did, I take responsibility and offer a solution. But if that’s not enough, I know how how to take my losses and walk away, while politely telling someone they are out of line.  Gaining self confidence and self-worth comes from knowing when to walk away.

Life is a slippery slope and we end up taking the treatment we think we deserve.

Don’t let anyone make you feel small. Stand up and speak up for yourself when people try to step on who you are and take advantage. If you think people will stand up for you, they won’t. Nobody stood up for me in any of these scenarios, sure they sympathized with how I felt, but no one stood up. I could have lost my job for not giving good customer service but I took the risk and guess what, I didn’t lose my job!

Some of you might be reading this and thinking, it’s not worth the aggravation and that you should never risk your job for your pride. And maybe I’m giving bad advice. But in my heart and in my soul, I know that every time I don’t stand up for myself I’m allowing myself to be treated as less than and accepting that as truth. I know it probably won’t change how nasty some people are. If standing up for myself doesn’t do much else, at least I set a boundary with myself on what I’m willing to accept. Ego shm-ego.

The workplace is a tough place, and you always have to remember to look out for #1. Learn how to be assertive at work and fight for your own agenda. No ones going to stick up for you and no one’s going to defend you. And while most jobs require some level of customer service and hospitality, it doesn’t mean you should allow your self to be treated like a doormat and disrespected.

Jobs come and go but your sense of self and how you are to be treated by other people is 100% on you.  Self confidence is everything.

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