Dr Jozelle Miller
September 13, 2016
Respectful disrespect…

Have you ever felt disrespected? To disrespect someone is the act of being insulting towards them. When we disrespect people, we think very little of them. The person becomes undervalued in our eyes, and most times it is done deliberately with the aim of causing emotional turmoil, resulting in the breakdown of friendships and relationships.{{more}}

It has been suggested that the way to avoid disrespecting persons would be to disrespect the ideas and actions, but not people; but yet, as we may have noticed, it is a complicated task to draw a clean line between people and their behaviour, at least not one they’ll regard as clean. Snubbing someone’s thoughts and actions could easily be characterized as snubbing the person.

We need a different approach to disrespect. The answer may be in finding effective ways to deal with the disrespect of others, while we endeavour to treat others with the utmost respect we desire for ourselves.

How to deal with disrespectful people:

1. Assess the situation

Determine if the person’s disrespectful behaviour is unintentional and impersonal. Disrespectful and rude behaviour is always annoying and at times can even be intolerable. However, not all rude actions are the same, and so your strategy for dealing with the disrespectful behaviour should vary, depending upon whether or not you judge the offending act to be intentional and/or personal.

Determine if the disrespectful behaviour is unintentional, yet personal. With this type of offense, the person who is offending you does not intend to be rude, but their actions are nonetheless directed specifically at you.

Determine if the disrespectful behaviour is intentional, yet impersonal. This sorts of offending, disrespectful behaviour is classified as “norm violations”. In these cases, the offending person knows exactly what they are doing, and they most likely know that there is a general taboo against their behaviour (or they know that others consider it to be rude). They either don’t care about the rule, or aren’t fully thinking about how their behaviour negatively affects others. If someone’s disrespectful behaviour is intentional and impersonal, it means that while they intend to act as they do, they aren’t necessarily trying to offend or hurt you specifically.

Determine if the disrespectful behaviour is intentional and personal. In these cases, the offending person knows exactly what they are doing, and you are indeed the intended object of their behaviour. Depending upon how they are willing to describe their behaviour, they may even be willing to admit that it is rude or disrespectful.

2. Controlling Your Reaction to Disrespectful Behaviour

Don’t automatically jump to negative conclusions. Completing the above steps will help you begin to understand why the other person is being so rude or even disrespectful, but it’s not always so easy to judge whether or not someone’s rude behaviour is intentional or personal. In these cases, we may be tempted to assume the worst about the other person. Doing this, though, will only increase our own frustration and anger, whereas the point is to try to diffuse our negative feelings.

Do your best to empathize with the other person. Just as you should try not to assume the very worst about people – even those who are being exceptionally disrespectful – you should also try to empathize with them. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes in order to try to understand their behaviour.

Ignore the disrespectful behaviour, if possible. At this point, you may have determined that the disrespectful behaviour that was troubling you was unintentional and impersonal, for example. If that’s the case, you may decide that there’s no real point in confronting the person; after all, you’ve decided that they aren’t trying to offend you personally and that they may not even be aware of what they are doing. However, even in cases of more egregious disrespect (such as the intentional, personal disrespect) there is good reason to think about ignoring the person. We may think that it’s always important to stand up for ourselves and confront bad, rude, or offensive behaviour; we may have been told that it’s a sign of self-confidence, or that to sit back and take it is a sign of weakness, or low self-esteem. We may even think that if we fail to confront the offender, then our own frustration will build. To the contrary, though, there is a compelling reason to ignore disrespectful behaviour, if at all possible, in order to preserve our own mental health. Recent research suggests that study participants who were able to ignore rude people, rather than interact with them or confront them, were later better able to perform cognitive tasks. It seems as though distancing yourself from and ignoring disrespectful people is a good strategy for protecting yourself and maintaining your overall peace and calm.

Decide what you cannot tolerate. Not all disrespectful behaviour can be ignored. Think carefully about whether or not there are any minor changes you can make to avoid the offending person. You shouldn’t be the only one to have to change, but keep in mind that it’s easier to change ourselves than others. The biggest part of learning to deal with disrespectful people is learning how to handle it on our end – there is no guarantee that

we’ll be able to effect change in other people. Thus, if we can learn to not be bothered by others or can easily remove ourselves or change our environment, the situation may be remedied more easily. Nonetheless, this is about striking a balance: you shouldn’t be the one who has to continually make all of the concessions, especially if the disrespectful behaviour is coming from a friend, loved one, co-worker, or indeed anyone who is part of our regular circle, whom we don’t want to, or can’t, cut out of our lives.

3. Confronting the person

Don’t lash out. Now that you’ve decided to confront the disrespectful person, it’s important that you approach the situation carefully. Lashing out in anger will only make the other person respond defensively and will increase the tension. Once you’ve decided to talk to the other person, avoid using accusatory language. Instead of responding to your mother’s criticisms with “You are such a judgmental shrew,” try framing your complaint with “I-language”: e.g. “I feel down and hurt when you say those hurtful words to me.”

Be direct, yet polite. When you decide to confront the offending person about their troubling behaviour, don’t beat around the bush or engage in passive-aggressive responses. Clearly identify the problem, and explain specifically what you need from the other person. The situation will be resolved much more quickly and efficiently if you calmly and politely explain your frustration in as non-accusatory a manner as possible.

Deal with the offending person directly if possible. Whether you are frustrated with a waiter, your co-workers or a sibling, it’s always a better idea to try to resolve the situation directly, before moving up the ladder. If you go over people’s heads to complain, you risk increasing the hostility, inadvertently opening up the other person to harsher punishment than you had anticipated, and becoming subject to blow-back yourself.

Kill them with kindness. The Golden Rule tells us to treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. It’s a good rule to follow for more than one reason: it commands us to treat others with respect and kindness, which is good in itself, but it’s also a good guide for our conduct insofar as we’ll be more likely to get what we want. When we are kind to others, they, in turn, tend to be kind to us. If you’re trying to respond to someone who is being rude and disrespectful, instead of lashing out or meeting their aggression, try responding with a smile or a kind word. Quite often, this unexpected response will shock the person out of their nastiness.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.