Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 5;   January 30, 2013: Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness

Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness

by

"Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot, it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?
Marie Antoinette, queen of France from 1774 to 1792

Marie Antoinette, queen of France from 1774 to 1792. She is famous for having said, upon learning that the peasants of France had no bread to eat, "Let them eat cake." Although famous for this remark, there is essentially no firm evidence that she ever uttered anything like it.

"Let them eat cake" is an example of a hurtfully dismissive remark, closely related to "Not my problem." The portrait is in pastel on paper, done by Alexander Kucharsky (1741-1819) near the end of the subject's life. It is currently in a private collection.

When we're dismissive towards others, they can experience pain. Retaliation, bad decisions, depressed performance, and broken relationships can follow. Dismissing others might feel satisfying, but it's expensive to the organization. If it's a repeated pattern of behavior, it's a performance issue.

Some offenders intend to throw their targets off balance, to inflict pain, or to gain advantage in debate. Others are unintentionally dismissive, but the results can be serious nonetheless.

Targets of dismissiveness usually cannot control the behavior of offenders, but they can learn to remain centered. There is a 3-R recipe for dealing with hurtful dismissiveness: Recognize the offense, Reframe the offense, and Reaffirm your own humanity.

Recognition begins with becoming familiar with the words offenders use. Because most of the examples below do have legitimate uses, both style of delivery and context determine whether they're being used offensively. For instance, "Forget it," in response to an apology can mean, "Apology accepted." But in response to a request for an explanation, it can be a dismissive rejection.

Here's a little catalog of dismissive remarks. Add more as you encounter them.

  • Never mind.
  • Don't worry about it.
  • Talk to me later (or sometime).
  • Sorry, gotta go.
  • Not your (my) concern (affair, problem, worry).
  • Stay focused.
  • Not now. Maybe later.
  • Ask me later.
  • Let's not.
  • Send me mail on that.
  • It's complicated.
  • You're overreacting.
  • Welcome to the nineties.
  • Let's not be panicky.
  • Aren't you clever.
  • Could be.
  • Who knows? Or cares?
  • [Interrupting] Yeah, yeah, I get it.
  • Here we go again.
  • Not again.
  • Oh, that. Let's move on.
  • There you go (she goes, he goes, they go) again.
  • <laughs><changes subject>
  • Stop the presses.
  • Hold your horses.
  • I hear you. (repeatedly)
  • I take your point. (repeatedly)
  • Yeah, I heard that.
  • Yeah, I heard that yesterday (last week, last month).
  • Everyone knows that.
  • That's not news.
  • I don't think it's quite that bad (serious).
  • Get over it.
  • You're making (way) too much of it.
  • That's just the way she is (he is, they are).
  • That's life.
  • Get used to it.
  • Only joking.
  • Cool your jets.
  • Chill.
  • Take it easy.
  • Take five.
  • Give it a rest.
  • Hold on there, Targets of dismissiveness usually
    cannot control the behavior
    of offenders, but they can
    learn to remain centered
    chief (pal).
  • Big deal.
  • I've (we've, you've, they've, he's, she's) done worse.
  • You just can't leave it alone, can you?
  • Nothing I (we, you) can do about that.
  • Why does that matter?
  • What's the difference?
  • It doesn't really matter.
  • Either way.
  • Next!
  • Sucks to be you.
  • Don't be so sensitive.
  • Take a number.

Next time we'll explore techniques for reframing dismissive remarks.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Reframing Hurtful Dismissiveness  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenqEcQqYfLJTYPzEhiner@ChacyLCnysWtiyNQyckqoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

Carrot and stickIrrational Self-Interest
When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
Ancient stairs at ruins in CambodiaThe True Costs of Indirectness
Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict. It can be an expensive practice.
Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.
An actual red herringSome Truths About Lies: IV
Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception. Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinThey Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The end of the line for a railroad trackComing May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sAnd on June 6: Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenVGtsfyIvMWYjKHwFner@ChacKuxZiTTfBCMhHZGsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Case
This Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Caseprogram outlines the steps necessary for deploying a program for rational management of technical debt. For many organizations, adopting a program for rationally managing technical debt entails organizational change. And unlike some organizational changes, this one touches almost everyone in the organization, because technical debt isn't merely a technical problem. Technical debt manifests itself in technological assets, to be sure, but its causes are rarely isolated to the behavior and decisions of engineers. We can't resolve the problem of chronically excessive levels of technical debt by changing the behavior of engineers alone. Technical debt is the symptom, not the problem. In this program we outline the essential elements of an effective business case for adopting a rational technical debt management program. But this business case, unlike many business cases, cannot be captured in a document. We must make the case not only at the leadership level of the organization, but also at the level of the individual contributor. Everyone must understand. Everyone must contribute. We explore five issues that make technical debt so difficult to manage, and develop five guidelines for designing technical debt management strategies for the modern enterprise. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.