Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 5;   January 30, 2013: Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness

Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness

by

"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

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.
  • Chill.
  • 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 centered
    chief (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.
  • Next!
  • 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 Go to top Top  Next issue: Reframing Hurtful Dismissiveness  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenlpZJDYDfobbBjYJqner@ChacSpkfjnKYZWsvGNpEoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

A droplet ploppingPlopping
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
A shouting matchCan You Hear Me Now?
Not feeling heard can feel like an attack, even when there was no attack, and then conversation can quickly turn to war. Here are some tips for hearing your conversation partner and for conveying the message that you actually did hear.
A mousetrapWhen You Aren't Supposed to Say: II
Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive than that. Sometimes people who try to extract that information use techniques based on misdirection. Here are some of them.
A Roman coin from the reign of Marcus Cocceius NervaThe Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: I
In much of the world, the handshake is a customary business greeting. It seems so simple, but its nuances can send signals we don't intend. Here are some of the details of handshakes in the USA.
Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A human marionetteComing November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
Desperation at workAnd on December 6: Reframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden. Available here and by RSS on December 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjpXBJvmtGKjVTNNSner@ChacrUdlxRboZrnYyaccoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy new blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.