A dance studio is usually a fun place to work.
But, like any workplace, it is not a given that you will get along with all of your coworkers. A dance school can harbor big egos, favoritism, negativity, and bullying… and not just among the students.
And unfortunately, like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, you may occasionally find yourself working with an Emily: someone rude, intimidating, undermining, or downright mean.
Are you picturing your “Emily” right now?
Maybe she’s an authority or a teacher who has been there a while, a principal member of the staff. Or maybe she only sees herself that way. You may be the target of her superior attitude because she feels threatened by you.
Perhaps you get along with the students more easily. Perhaps you have talents or gifts that are different from her own. That alone is enough to make her react to you as if she were defending her turf or dominance in the studio.
And though I’m using mostly feminine pronouns in this piece because of the Emily reference, let’s be clear that “she” could certainly be a “he.”
Whatever the details, if you are letting this coworker intimidate you to the point of doubting yourself and your abilities, STOP. This is likely his/her intent. These power plays are working.
So what can you do?
In one sentence: Stand up for yourself and be worthy of the respect you want and deserve.
If you can avoid being around this coworker, or let her comments just roll off your back, do it. But if that’s you, you’ve probably already stopped reading. So, if this fellow teacher is unavoidable, here are your next steps:
When the teacher makes rude comments, if you feel comfortable, address her directly. Respond with as little emotion as possible that you don’t appreciate the comment or think it’s inappropriate. We’re all adults here… right?
If you are feeling personally attacked I understand that you may be uncomfortable confronting this coworker. And it probably won’t benefit you to take on or challenge her directly, especially if you are the “junior” member of the staff or there is major ego involved. But it’s important to show that you can’t or won’t be intimidated so that your bully will give up and move on.
If you feel you’ve already lost it when it comes to this tormentor, here are some ways you can get back your mojo:
One — Kill ’em with kindness.
You don’t need to become her best friend or get too personal. In fact, staying clear when you can is best. But say hello, smile, be extremely courteous. Float serenely above any bad feelings like it doesn’t phase you at all that she’s ever been unkind to you.
Two –Don’t let ’em under your skin
As hard as it is, don’t let this coworker inhibit you in your actions or conversations when s/he is nearby.
Try to forget that she’s there and act as you would if she weren’t in the room, not letting it bother you (or show that it bothers you) if she uses the opportunity to tear you down. If you don’t clam up or let it ruffle you, you get to appear like the confident professional and she’ll look petty and immature.
If she says something really belittling to you in public, ask calmly but assertively, “Have I offended or annoyed you in some way?” and then just… wait…. for an answer. Whether the response is nasty or “just kidding” or stunned silence, again, don’t let it fluster you.
No matter what she says, reply with “You seem to be (or I can see you are) offended by something I’ve said/done and I wouldn’t want that. I’d be happy to talk about it privately with you if you like.” Rehearse this response if you have to (I’m not kidding).
Maybe that feels out of character for you but that’s exactly the point. Respond with maturity and composure rather than wilting under her scrutiny.
In the film, when she no longer wanted to be the subject of anyone’s abuse, what did Andy (Hathaway) do?
She stepped up her game, so…
Three — Be jaw-droppingly good.
Rather than believing or becoming what your tormentor says about you, acknowledge that you could improve as a teacher. We all can improve – own it and take responsibility for the things you know you can do better. At the same time recognize your strengths and be confident in what you already do well. People can only make you feel inferior or miserable if you let them. Or, as Ms. Roosevelt put it: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
What if your rude coworker is affecting your ability to do your job?
I’m an advocate for trying to settle conflicts with your coworker before turning to a greater authority to work it out.
But sometimes it’s necessary to go to your superior and address the issue. Only you know when that point has been reached but if you feel unable to do your job because of this person, it’s a sign that you may need help to set things right.
Before asking your school’s director to intervene on your behalf, provide detailed examples of the abuse, what you’ve done so far to detach or dissociate yourself from this coworker, and ask if s/he has any other suggestions.
Our post How To Discuss Problems with Your Studio Director and Be Heard is written for parents but all the same advice applies when you, as a teacher, would like to approach your employer with concerns.
- Take a breath
- Develop an argument
- Time your approach
- Buffer your complaint
- Be willing to listen
- Be willing to walk away
Your director will want to know if comments have been made in front of students, other teachers, or parents.
If you’ve had a real sit-down discussion with the director and s/he doesn’t agree that something should be done or, if given time, absolutely nothing is done to improve the situation and you are uncomfortable working there with things as they are, it may be time to start hunting for employment elsewhere.
There could be factors inhibiting the director’s ability to see the situation clearly. Perhaps the teacher is a long-time friend, relative, or has a particularly impressive resumé. A negative person can infect an entire work environment and it would be a mistake of the director’s to not nip negativity in the bud but, if allowed to persist, you must decide if staying in the environment is worth it. Leave (or stay) on good terms if you can.
Be the professional, always.
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