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:
- When It Really Counts, Be Positive
- When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one.
We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal
meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes
a top priority problem. What can you do?
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of non-verbal insults.
- Cognitive Biases and Influence: I
- The techniques of influence include inadvertent — and not-so-inadvertent — uses of cognitive
biases. They are one way we lead each other to accept or decide things that rationality cannot support.
- Columbo Strategy
- A late 20th-century television detective named Columbo had a unique approach to cracking murder cases.
His method is just as effective at work when the less powerful must deal with the powerful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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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.