Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness
by Rick Brenner
"Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot, it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?
Marie Antoinette, queen of France from 1774 to 1792. She is famous for having said, upon learning that the peasants of France had no bread to eat, "Let them eat cake." Although famous for this remark, there is essentially no firm evidence that she ever uttered anything like it.
"Let them eat cake" is an example of a hurtfully dismissive remark, closely related to "Not my problem." The portrait is in pastel on paper, done by Alexander Kucharsky (1741-1819) near the end of the subject's life. It is currently in a private collection.
When we're dismissive towards others, they can experience pain. Retaliation, bad decisions, depressed performance, and broken relationships can follow. Dismissing others might feel satisfying, but it's expensive to the organization. If it's a repeated pattern of behavior, it's a performance issue.
Some offenders intend to throw their targets off balance, to inflict pain, or to gain advantage in debate. Others are unintentionally dismissive, but the results can be serious nonetheless.
Targets of dismissiveness usually cannot control the behavior of offenders, but they can learn to remain centered. There is a 3-R recipe for dealing with hurtful dismissiveness: Recognize the offense, Reframe the offense, and Reaffirm your own humanity.
Recognition begins with becoming familiar with the words offenders use. Because most of the examples below do have legitimate uses, both style of delivery and context determine whether they're being used offensively. For instance, "Forget it," in response to an apology can mean, "Apology accepted." But in response to a request for an explanation, it can be a dismissive rejection.
Here's a little catalog of dismissive remarks. Add more as you encounter them.
- Never mind.
- Don't worry about it.
- Talk to me later (or sometime).
- Sorry, gotta go.
- Not your (my) concern (affair, problem, worry).
- Stay focused.
- Not now. Maybe later.
- Ask me later.
- Let's not.
- Send me mail on that.
- It's complicated.
- You're overreacting.
- Welcome to the nineties.
- Let's not be panicky.
- Aren't you clever.
- Could be.
- Who knows? Or cares?
- [Interrupting] Yeah, yeah, I get it.
- Here we go again.
- Not again.
- Oh, that. Let's move on.
- There you go (she goes, he goes, they go) again.
- <laughs><changes subject>
- Stop the presses.
- Hold your horses.
- I hear you. (repeatedly)
- I take your point. (repeatedly)
- Yeah, I heard that.
- Yeah, I heard that yesterday (last week, last month).
- Everyone knows that.
- That's not news.
- I don't think it's quite that bad (serious).
- Get over it.
- You're making (way) too much of it.
- That's just the way she is (he is, they are).
- That's life.
- Get used to it.
- Only joking.
- Cool your jets.
- Take it easy.
- Take five.
- Give it a rest.
- Hold on there, Targets of dismissiveness usually
cannot control the behavior
of offenders, but they can
learn to remain centeredchief (pal).
- Big deal.
- I've (we've, you've, they've, he's, she's) done worse.
- You just can't leave it alone, can you?
- Nothing I (we, you) can do about that.
- Why does that matter?
- What's the difference?
- It doesn't really matter.
- Either way.
- Sucks to be you.
- Don't be so sensitive.
- Take a number.
Next time we'll explore techniques for reframing dismissive remarks. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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See also Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
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