There are few things that offend us more than feeling disrespected by others. These insults take many forms: We are excluded from a meeting, others arrive late to our meeting, our comments are dismissed, or we’re spoken to in a harsh or inappropriate tone. Are they intentional? What motivates them? Are they about us, about who we are, about how valuable or deserving of respect we are?
Admittedly, in the rapid-fire interactions of the usual business day we may not pause to ask these questions. At least 50% of behavioral actions, interactions, and reactions are driven by habit, habits of thought and habitual assumptions about self, others, and the meanings of behavior. But reliance on habit does not mean we are incapable of invoking a reflective pause and questioning our experience – what’s happening?
Individual Differences - we're not mindreaders
Whatever we feel in the moment is real. As a feeling it conveys meaning, and whether positive or negative it has an effect. It can trigger reactions, it can prompt notice, and it can do both. In situations where it feels like we are not being respected, it’s critically important to notice and listen to these feelings. This is where respecting ourselves begins. It concerns our values, so these feeling are worth listening to.
If we are to really listen to them, however, we must notice what they are signaling: hurt, annoyance, outrage, or shock and disappointment. Any or all these emotions may come into play. Clarifying this meaning affirms the basis of insult – “That’s why I am offended and reacting so strongly!” But we don’t stop here. That’s only the beginning. The next question concerns what caused the behavior.
The actions by others may have been intentional or unintentional. They may have been motivated by malice toward us, or by a sense of urgency to act that led to rushed action and inadvertent offense to us. Even if the action was intentional and thoughtful, it may not have been informed by an awareness of our preferences for inclusion or involvement, or how the action might leave us feeling disrespected.
Now, mindful of why we felt disrespected and of the alternative reasons why this might have happened, we may have calmed our reactive emotions enough to intervene. And the best way to intervene in these matters is almost always live, face-to-face conversation. The best default assumptions are benevolent. We should assume that others were most likely trying to do something good, helpful, positive.
Assertiveness vs Aggression (or passive-aggression)
So, we begin speaking: “I am sure you felt that you were taking the best course of action, when you did this, but….” And we proceed from there to describe what concerned us about the action, i.e., what we had expected, wanted, and preferred and why. Then we seek to establish a clear, mutual understanding of how to avoid such “misses” in the future.
Our initial effort to assertively engage others when we've felt disrespected may work easily, or it may require an iterative course of dialogue. Others might say, “I am not sure why you feel that way or have those preferences,” or they may say “I disagree with you about your preferred way of doing things." If so, we must hang in there, recycle the pause-reflect-discuss intervention in a dialogical manner.
If there is not complete resolution and agreement, we may need to take a break, reconsider one another’s positions, and schedule time to revisit the matter. If that still provides no resolution, perhaps we need to convene a meeting with superiors to place our dispute on the table for mediation. And along the way we must continually remind ourselves to make benevolent assumptions.
Summary: We must first take our own feelings seriously and understand what their telling us. Then we must examine our assumptions of cause and our attributions of intentions and motives to others. There is usually plenty of opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding in our fast-moving business world. Finally, we must clearly assert what we experience, expect, and prefer in a self-respecting manner.