I’ve commuted to work for most of my professional career and over half of that commuting has been by car. During my drives, I find myself exhibiting a behavior that I’m pretty sure is universal among humans when we’re being human. If someone starts speeding in and out of lanes in an attempt to get to work 30 seconds earlier than if they drove in a civilized manner, I start driving like a jerk too.
Conversely, when I witness a commuter navigating their way to work in a courteous, even kind way, by letting people into their lane, following the speed limit and using their car as a means of transportation and not a weapon, I start driving like them (and I’m much happier for it).
So now I make a conscious effort to focus on the civilized drivers and avoid and ignore the Richard Craniums of the roadways. I’ve realized that the same principle of this, almost unconscious, way that we model our behavior on whomever we’re paying attention to, applies to the workplace as well. If I’m focused on the individuals at work who are political, subversive, self-centered and nasty, much to my horror, I tend to act that way as well.
Like my commuting tactic, I now seek out co-workers who practice what I preach, and emulate them. They become my unknowing mentors. The beauty of this is that I don’t need to put a formal mentor/mentee relationship into place to learn from them. Not that a formalized partnership isn’t more beneficial than a looser one-sided one. It’s just easier to engage in and can even be done from a distance.
As soon as I find myself dealing with a work jerk and wanting to respond in kind I focus my attention on my chosen mentor and model his or her behavior. I then find myself acting in a much more professional and productive manner. That’s the model I want to model.