In exploring the causes and consequences of hurtfully dismissive remarks, we began with recognizing them. Then we showed how reframing them can help limit hurt by giving targets of dismissive remarks a way to understand them that includes the full reality of the remark, the offender, and the context in which the remark appears.
We now turn to a perspective that can actually produce an experience of a minor bump instead of deep emotional hurt, if it doesn't prevent the experience of pain altogether. In this approach, targets reaffirm their humanity by focusing on what defines their own humanness. Here are four insights that help.
- Inadvertent and intentional dismissiveness are different
- Even though none of us can read minds, we tend to assume that hurtfully dismissive remarks are intentional. Many are. For example, the probability of intentionality is high for repeat offenders. But before taking action, it's worth verifying intentions — privately, if possible.
- If the remark is unintentionally hurtful, target and offender can often reach a new understanding that strengthens their relationship.
- The offender's words don't define the target
- What the offender says is merely an assertion, or even less — an insinuation. It isn't proof in itself. It doesn't define the target. Targets do better when they recognize false assertions and insinuations as false.
- Others might overhear the remark, but how they respond to it is their choice. People are free to receive information and conclude whatever they feel is appropriate. Targets must accept this freedom that others have, but targets need not accept the content of the dismissive remark.
- Targets are responsible for their own beliefs, as others are for theirs
- Targets are Addressing the real problem
works better than
addressing the wrong problemresponsible for their own beliefs about themselves. Targets who know that a remark is misleading or wrong have all the tools they need to reject the remark, at least internally. Dismissive remarks can't directly harm targets who truly believe the remarks are bogus.
- What can be problematic is that others might be misled by the remarks, but that's a different problem.
- Addressing the real problem works better than addressing the wrong problem
- Confronting the offender might be helpful if the bystanders witness the confrontation and accept the target's position. But confrontations can often produce yet more hurtful remarks. And because confrontations appear to be self-serving for the target, many bystanders discount the target's counter-assertions. To others, the whole thing looks like a brawl, especially when the confronter (the target) is humorless, or worse, angry.
- Confronting the offender in the workplace context rarely helps. Instead, approach bystanders personally. Deal with their willing acceptance of false insinuations directly. That's the real problem.
Finally, there is the question of organizational power. If the offender is more powerful than the target, the target's options can be very limited. Moving on is often best. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Email Antics: IV
- Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a real time waster. Yet much of the problem results from
our own actions. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that.
Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here
are some of their techniques.
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: I
- When we address others, we sometimes use filler — so-called automatic speech or embolalia —
without thinking. Examples are "uh," "um," and "er," but there are more
complex forms, too. Embolalia are usually harmless, if mildly annoying to some. But sometimes they can
- Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous.
But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection
of their techniques.
- I Don't Understand: II
- Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification.
How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.