Addressing Disrespectful Communication Head On

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Disrespectful communication is extremely prevalent.  I’m going to guess that most everyone has had an experience at some point in their career, where they’ve been spoken to disrespectfully…?

The way in which disrespectful communication presents itself can sometimes be extremely blatant – rude, aggressive, sometimes even abusive behaviour. 

Addressing Disrespectful Communication Head On

Other times, it can be more subtle.  For example, cutting people off as they speak, dismissing ideas without listening to them, facial expressions that express contempt and even eye rolling.  Disrespect is communicated in all of these subtle, nonverbal ways (and more).  It doesn’t take words and it can be just as damaging.

Sometimes, this disrespectful communication comes from someone superior to you.  Other times, it might be from a colleague.  I’ve even seen it frequently by team members towards their manager.

We’re all human.  And as humans, we sometimes get stressed.  Unfortunately, we sometimes take that stress out on the people around us.  This can lead to disrespectful communication even when we aren’t intending to be rude.

Occasional occurrences of disrespectful communication are not necessarily a huge problem.  We can apologize, mend bridges and move forward.

However, where this becomes a real problem is when a pattern of continued and repeated instances of disrespectful communication develops.

Addressing Disrespectful Communication Head On

It becomes particularly problematic when the person who is being disrespectful isn’t even aware of how rude they’re being.  Or even worse, if they have an awareness of it and simply feel entitled to speak to others in this way.  

The good news is that there are things you can do to shift these patterns.  There are effective ways to hold others accountable so that they may well think twice before acting similarly in future.

The best way to change these patterns?

  • Put words to what you’re observing and experiencing.
  • Speak in a manner that is non-confrontational, but is clear and assertive.
  • Make it clear that you don’t like the way you’re being spoken to.
  • Speak from your own perspective, using “I” statements (remember that blaming the other person will inevitably make them defensive).
  • No matter what the other person says, do your best to stay calm.

For instance, if you’ve noticed someone rolling their eyes at you, saying something as simple as “I’m getting the sense that you may be irritated by something I’ve said” can call out the behaviour and bring it to their attention.  Or you could ask them a question, such as “You seem to not like what we’re talking about here, could you explain to me what it is that’s bothering you?”.

Addressing disrespectful communication head on not only brings these types of inappropriate behaviours to the attention of the person doing them, it also puts them on the spot to take ownership of these behaviours.

When we don’t put words to inappropriate behaviours, they continue and get much worse.

What holds us back?

We often avoid holding people accountable for their disrespectful communication because we’re afraid of how they may react.  You might be afraid of the repercussions on you professionally, or how you may be perceived within your team or by leadership.

However, what often happens when someone doesn’t speak up is that the disrespectful communication worsens over time.  When someone notices that disrespectful communication will be tolerated, it leaves them space to ramp up this behaviour towards increasingly aggressive forms of communication.

The best time to speak up and set limits around disrespectful communication is as soon as you notice it occurring.

If you’re wanting to shift these patterns but feel nervous, think about how you will speak up next time.  Practice one sentence that you could use to address the behaviour until it feels natural.  Role play with someone you trust.

Getting to the point where you feel comfortable saying something (or maybe still feel uncomfortable, but will do it anyway) will send a clear message to the person being disrespectful that you’re aware of the disrespect and that you don’t like it.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Why Blaming Doesn’t Work and What You Can Do Differently

Why It’s So Important to Work With Different Personalities

How to Get Better Results from Your Employees

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech-Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two neurodivergent children, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette

Lindsay Lapaquette, M.Sc.(A) works with middle managers who want to communicate authentically so they can effectively lead their teams without losing themselves. As a former Speech Language Pathologist, Lindsay applies her expertise in the neuroscience of communication and connection to help managers foster an environment of trust and respect in their teams, so that everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lindsay’s approach has been profoundly influenced by her work with First Nations organizations, her experience as a parent to two children with pervasive mental health challenges, and the premature loss of both of her parents. These experiences have taught Lindsay great lessons about the power of excellent people skills that extend well beyond her professional expertise.

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Hi, I'm Lindsay

Leadership communication skills to elevate team performance.

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