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!

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Probably the most widely used tactic of persuasion, "What's In It For Me," or WIIFM, can be toxic to an organization. There's a much healthier approach that provides a competitive advantage to organizations that use it.
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The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
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See also Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

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