I work with a Miss Know-It-All. When we’re in meetings she seems to take over. She doesn’t listen to anyone’s ideas and is just plain disrespectful. I respect her position, but I have zero respect for her personally. Recently I decided I would give her the benefit of the doubt and listen to what she has to say to see if it holds water. Unfortunately, because I have had such longstanding disdain for this person, I’m finding it very difficult to give her the benefit of the doubt. I hear her voice in meetings and it reminds me of fingernails on a chalkboard. I have often said I would like a house to fall on her. I want to change, but I’m unsure how to do so. Can you give me some guidance, please?
Dawdling in Disrespect
Dear Dawdling in Disrespect,
Have you heard the saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? This aphorism expresses a simple truth: beauty is not an attribute of the thing perceived, but an attitude cultivated by the one perceiving.
The same is true of respect. It is not your peer’s behavior that is cause for your disrespect, but your own thoughts and feelings.
I gather you recognize this because, if I understand you correctly, you want to know how you can change yourself rather than how you can change your peer. That tells me your heart is in the right place. At least, your attention is directed toward that domain over which you have control. Good for you. Here’s what I suggest.
Why do you allow your peer’s behavior to affect you so?
I have come to understand that much of our suffering is a function of one belief: things should be other than what they are. From annoyance to anger, discontent to disrespect, frustration to fury, almost all mental anguish follows from the opinion that the circumstances in which we find ourselves ought to be different than what they are. I shouldn’t have to sit in traffic. Marriage should be easier than this. People should know better. My coworker shouldn’t act like that. Whenever we expect our lot to be different than what it is, we suffer some form of distress.
That things should be other than what they are is a story we tell ourselves, and it isn’t true. Nothing about the world suggests that life will unfold the way we’d like it to or that people will behave how we believe they ought to. So, examine your thinking. I suspect you’ll find some story about how things should be, about how your peer should behave.
Also, there’s nothing to suggest you shouldn’t feel disrespectful. The fact is you do, and that’s ok. There is a difference between wanting to change how you feel and believing you shouldn’t feel the way you do. So, while you’re uncovering stories, check for any that suggest it’s wrong to feel disrespectful.
Let Go of Your Stories
If you find stories about how life should unfold, let them go. Wishing your state of affairs was different will worsen your attitude, while accepting it will alleviate distress and empower you to change it if you decide to.
As you examine your stories you will likely find a victim, and it will be you. Look at your question. It could be summarized as follows: “I’m suffering feelings of anger and disrespect because of my coworker.” I want to suggest you are not a victim of your peer’s behavior, and you’re not a victim of circumstance. But you may be a victim of the story you tell yourself, which says you are.
You are also one who holds a great power: the capacity to do otherwise. Respect the fact that you can change the story you tell yourself, and hold yourself responsible for doing so. It can be incredibly challenging to do this, and yet you can choose to see things as they are and stop wishing they were different as quickly as you can flip a switch. Make it your goal to embrace rather than resent the situations in which you find yourself and you’ll begin to develop a kind of self-regard that is inviolable.
Or don’t. The point is you have the option. What I’ve outlined above involves changing your thinking, and that may be sufficient for overcoming disrespectful feelings. But there is nothing quite like a direct and intimate conversation with whom you are frustrated for changing how you feel about him or her.
Should you decide to share your frustration with your peer, be frank with how you feel, and take responsibility for your feelings; don’t blame them on her. Start by trying to understand how she sees the situation, or whether she sees it. You might begin like this: “Can I ask you something? I’m hoping a conversation can help me resolve some concerns. For a long time I’ve struggled with your approach in meetings and I want to understand where you’re coming from. I feel you don’t give people the respect they deserve. Yesterday I noticed you interrupted Teresa four times, she never finished her thought, and I saw a look of frustration on her face. This happens frequently. Have you noticed?”
Don’t attempt to have this conversation until you’ve examined your own thinking. I believe you’ll overcome much of your disrespect by checking your stories.
Finally, none of this is meant to suggest your peer is faultless. You may overcome your feelings of disrespect and yet determine that your peer’s behavior is unacceptable and that you want to try to influence her. If so, consider this: your peer’s behavior involves a desire to influence people and events. If you are to influence her, you’ll need to show her that her method of influence is ineffective and that there’s a better way. In other words, you’ll do well to not only explain better methods, but also demonstrate them. Should you pursue that path, we have books and courses and articles and videos that outline how to proceed. You got this.
The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations