Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 6;   February 6, 2013: Reframing Hurtful Dismissiveness

Reframing Hurtful Dismissiveness

by

Targets of dismissive remarks often feel that their concerns are being judged as unimportant, which can be painful when their concerns are real. But there is an alternative to pain. It requires a little skill and discipline, but it can work.
An Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) with head flattened in a threat posture

An Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) with head flattened in a threat posture. Many species use threat postures to deter predators, or competitors of their own species. The Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake flattens its head and hisses, in the manner of adders and other venomous snakes, though the Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake is not venomous itself. If the threat posture doesn't work, the Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake then flips over on its back and plays dead.

One way to reframe the behavior of offenders is to view it as a threat posture. Resisting the threat of an offender, or choosing not to be cowed by it, could possibly expose the behavior as the same kind of empty posing as that used by the Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake. Photo courtesy North Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation.

To reframe is to intentionally change one's perspective on events. For example, when someone comments on your weight, and your weight is within reasonable bounds, reframing can convert your experience from feeling criticized to questioning how anyone could say anything so unhinged from reality. Instead of offense or pain, the reframer might experience puzzlement or curiosity.

Reframing helps in many situations, but we focus on it here because it's the second R of a 3-R sequence for dealing with hurtfully dismissive remarks. Here are some reframes for hurtful dismissiveness.

It's about the offender, not the target
Dismissive comments involve at least two and possibly more people. The first is the offender — the person who delivers the dismissive comment. The second is the target, who often overlooks the offender's role and that of the other people involved — the witnesses.
Out of negligence, anger, malice, or something else, offenders say hurtful things. Some want to impress the witnesses; some want to impress themselves. The hurtful comment often reveals more about the offender than about the target.
Misunderstanding can be willful
Targets of To reframe is to intentionally
change one's perspective
on events
dismissive comments such as "You're making way too much of it," or "Don't be so sensitive," often feel an urge to justify their perspective. They assume that the offender doesn't understand. Maybe so, but rarely.
Sometimes the offender has adopted a pretense of misunderstanding, or a pretense of having another view, hoping thereby to manipulate the target into accepting the offender's perspective as legitimate. Targets who can reframe the offender's stance as manipulative might then arrive at a more useful understanding of the dismissive comment.
You're responsible for your feelings
Offenders can't make targets feel any particular emotion. What actually happens is that the targets use the dismissive comment to enable themselves to feel what they feel. Usually, they feel bad.
Targets who recognize that they're the authors of their own feelings are more likely to be able to control their responses to dismissive comments. They can choose something other than pain, such as wonderment or amusement or curiosity.
Offenders' motives vary
Among those who intentionally inflict pain on others, motives vary. Some want to advance their own status in the organization; some want to fluster the target; some seek revenge for real or imagined past harm. Others inflict pain because of a compulsion; or they seek a sense of dominance; or they want to make others feel as bad as they do.
Understanding the motives of offenders can be helpful to anyone who seeks an end to the offender's behavior. View each incident as additional data that can help in that effort.

Finally, targets can reframe the fact of the presence of offenders in their lives. They can see these relationships as sources of opportunities to practice reframing. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Preventing the Hurt of 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? rbrenfcJkoeXumWuUeXpQner@ChacNnMSCYozoqopVqcyoCanyon.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 headline about the War of the Worlds BroadcastDeliver the Headline First
When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the headline first, and then offer the details.
A Roman coin from the reign of Marcus Cocceius NervaThe Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part 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.
A New England stone wallHow to Misunderstand Somebody Else
Misunderstandings are commonplace at work, as in most of the rest of Life. At work, they might be even more commonplace, because at work it sometimes seems that people are actually trying to misunderstand. Here's a handy guide for those who want to get better at misunderstanding others.
A schematic representation of the flagellar components of Salmonella enterica serovar TyphimuriumWhen Over-Delivering Makes Trouble
When responding to inquiries such as "Is that correct?" we sometimes err by giving too many reasons why it's incorrect. Patterns of over-delivery can lead to serious trouble. Here's how.
A Celebes Crested MacaqueEthical Debate at Work: Part I
When we decide issues at work on any basis other than the merits, we elevate the chances of making bad decisions. Here are some guidelines for ethical debate.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuHXMfbRGjRSDsBJoner@ChacXSBwDkUAPYILUHxgoCanyon.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

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for 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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
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.