How to Deal with Disrespect

| | General Leadership
How to Deal with Disrespect post image

Have you ever experienced being disrespected in some way, but found yourself not quite sure what to do?

Perhaps you felt like someone was being condescending toward you. Or maybe they said or did something that you felt was intentionally designed to make you feel small or less important.

A client had called me recently because she had been dealing with someone for the last few days who left her feeling increasingly angry from his disrespectful, and at times, sexist comments, as well as his unprofessional behavior during meetings with her clients. It was shocking for her to be dealing with this behavior in this day and age.

It wasn’t easy to figure out what to do. Should she just soldier through until the transaction was done and hope she never has to deal with him again? Should she confront him about his bad behavior? The truth was she didn’t want to do either.

What she really wanted was to cause him to change his behavior without confrontation or drama.

She wanted to be able to let go of her anger and upset and turn things in a positive and professional direction. Yet she also wondered: should she let him off the hook that easy? Was she selling out on herself by letting him get away with having treated her with such disrespect?

You likely know what it feels like to be disrespected in some way. Many times your options in those moments can seem limited by the nature of the relationship.

…If it’s your boss, do you risk your job by calling him or her out?

…If it’s your client, are you willing to risk offending them and having them walk?

…If a deal is on the table, isn’t it smarter to just push through the crap and get the deal done?

After all, things may get worse if you bring the issue of disrespect up.  And dealing with denial or defensiveness can be just as hard to deal with as the disrespect was to begin with.

There is, however, one thing you can be certain of:

[Tweet “It is up to you to teach others how you want to be treated.”]

Also know that while you may not be able to see the disrespect coming or put a stop to it in the moment, you do have a choice about what happens next.

Here’s a simple 3 step process for shifting the conversation professionally and in the process, elevate how you are being treated:

1. Give them a choice.

Now by that I DO NOT mean an ultimatum like, “you better stop doing ______” or “you better start treating me with the respect I deserve or I will cancel this deal/quit/fire you as a client, etc.” No, ultimatums and confrontations will never turn things in a positive and professional direction even though it might feel good to standup for yourself.

What I am talking about is a choice regarding the reason you are interacting in the first place. Design the choice so that a “yes” is obviously the most self serving answer for them.

For example, if it’s a real estate transaction, then the choice could be “do you want this deal to go through or not?” With a boss it might be “do your really want to me to meet this deadline?” With a client the choice could be something like: “do you want your project to be delivered on time and on budget?”

Whatever way they may react – positively (e.g., “why of course”), defensively (e.g., “how could you think I don’t want the deal to go through?”), or disrespectfully (e.g., “that’s a ridiculous question”) – press for a simple yes or no. This is critical because it is in the moment when they make that simple choice that establishes whether the two of you are on a level playing field with a shared commitment, or the game is over and it’s time to find a way out rather than through.

Of course, it will be a yes because you asked a question for which “yes” is the obvious and likely response. Yet know that this is a brief and fragile moment, unless you follow decisively with the next step.

2. Make a Specific Request

Begin with something like: “Great, we are on the same page?” or “I want that to…so here is what I need from you to make that happen….”

Be prepared with a simple request, or requests that are essential for them to complete if you are to deliver on your part. It can be for whatever you need. For example, “if you can just stop referring to me as honey and sweetheart we can get this done. Are you willing to do that?” Another example is “I need you to agree to respond to my emails within 24 hours until we are done. Can you do that?” The request is up to you. The moment you get their agreement is the moment when the power has been equalized.

Then you will need to take the 3rd step.

3. Hold them accountable for honoring your request.

A great way to earn someone’s trust and respect is to keep your commitments. A great way to ensure you are treated with respect is to make sure people know you expect them to keep their commitments to you. They may not like it, but if they really want the outcome they said they wanted, they will do what is necessary. If not, you’ll be able to walk away or find your way out with a clear conscience knowing you kept your end of the bargain and in the process fortified your self respect.

This is, of course, only one strategy for dealing with an experience of being disrespected. What other strategies have you used that have worked for you?


Copyright: nomadsoul1 / 123RF Stock Photo


Enter A Comment

Chery Gegelman   |   28 April 2016   |   Reply

We absolutely have to take responsibility for setting boundaries in our lives. Fabulous tips!

Susan Mazza   |   29 April 2016   |   Reply

Thanks Chery!

Glen Martel   |   28 April 2016   |   Reply


Thanks for the insight on how to deal with an uncomfortable situation. As with anything being timely and willing to have the tough conversation will make for a better relationship.

Susan Mazza   |   29 April 2016   |   Reply

Thanks Glen. Excellent points. Being timely is so key. Waiting too long to address the situation can hamper your effectiveness in addressing it. While we might re-enact the moment in our minds for a long time, for the perceived “perpetrator” that moment is long gone and may not even have registered as a moment worth remembering.