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:
- An Agenda for Agendas
- Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed"
agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?
- Controlling Condescension
- Condescension is one reason why healthy conflict becomes destructive. It's a conversational technique
that many use without thinking, and others use with aggressive intention. Either way, it can hurt everyone
- Changing the Subject: II
- Sometimes, in conversation, we must change the subject, but we also do it to dominate, manipulate, or
assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
- Columbo Tactics: I
- When the less powerful must deal with the more powerful, or the much more powerful, the less powerful
can gain important advantages by adapting the strategy and tactics of the TV detective Lt. Columbo.
Here's Part I of a collection of his tactics.
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