Crucial Skills Logo The Official VitalSmarts Blog

I Disrespect My Disrespectful Peer. What Can I Do?

Dear Ryan,

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?

Signed,
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.

Check Yourself

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.

Respect Yourself

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.

Say Something

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.

Sincerely,
Ryan

Ryan Trimble

“A single insight can alter the course of your life.” Ryan Trimble is a writer with published profiles, essays, and journalism. He holds a bachelor’s in philosophy and has worked as a copywriter, product designer, and editor for VitalSmarts since 2017.

The ideas expressed in this article are based on the skills and principles taught in Crucial Conversations. Learn more about Crucial Conversations

Man training

What's Your Style Under Stress?

Discover your dialogue strengths and weaknesses with this short assessment.

Take Assessment >

Stack of books

Subscribe Now

Subscribe to the newsletter and get our best insights and tips every Wednesday.

Subscribe >

Woman training

Get Answers to Tough Questions

From stubborn habits to difficult people to monumental challenges, we can help.

Ask a Question >

9 thoughts on “I Disrespect My Disrespectful Peer. What Can I Do?

  1. i was in a meeting with my superverion last week and i had a employee enter the meeting that did not belong there she was so dispectful to me

  2. Thanks for this article. I have had times where I have felt this way and I feel like I have been the one cutting people off or overzealously sharing my opinions and ideas. I am always searching for ways to change my story or perception of what is going on…I have much work to do.

  3. Setting norms for meetings in advance can help. One norm we used was “no idea is a bad idea – please share all your ideas and thoughts.”

    Then the meeting organizer gate keeps – if someone shoots down an idea, they simply say “Remember, we are writing down all ideas – sometimes something that doesn’t seem possible is actually a great idea, other times it isn’t. If we don’t hear people out, we could miss an opportunity. (Name of person cut off), please go on about your idea.”

    If it continues, then you have the crucial conversation with the person, off line. if necessary, take a break and address the disruptive behavior that is outside of the agreed norms.

    1. In my field we call these norms ground rules. Beforehand we have everyone agree to the ground rules (like: no interrupting or framed as a positive action, like let everyone finish their sentences). I love them, because they set the stage of workable behaviors and it is easy to remind everyone of them when someone gets a little ahead of themselves and starts cutting off others or displays other unworkable behavior.

      When the opportunity of ground rules isn’t used, pausing the content and setting boundaries/ working on the process during the meeting is also acceptable and can smoothen out a meeting.

  4. Fabulous article! As I read the beginning concern / complaint, I thought, yes, that happens all the time! Then, as I pondered a bit more, I realized that I also could be one of the said accused disrespectful peer at times as well! I think that we need to be careful and always try to be considerate of other people around us when providing information ensuring pertinence in meetings keeping in mind how we are perceived. This article reminds myself that I too have much work to do on myself to be able to listen respectably, and speak considerately.

  5. Right on Ryan. As you say so well, when I stop arguing with what is – an argument I will never win – I am free to choose. I can step outside of my story and look at the effect it is having on me – the thoughts I have about myself and others in the situation, the emotions it brings up, what it does in my body, and how it affects the range of actions I can imagine taking. I can choose to try out other emotions and a different, more empowering story. I could even choose no story at all. Thank you.

  6. I LOVE this article. So empowering to know we are able to change our patterns of thinking, feeling and acting, rather than having to change the world around us.

Leave a Reply to Linda M Sanders Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.