Tag Archives: Mutual Respect

Crucial Conversations QA

What To Do When Someone Repeatedly Disrespects You

Dear Steve,

What do you do when respect is violated time and time again? I have revisited mutual purpose with a peer, but we always end up in the same loop: I feel disrespected and dialogue comes to “a screeching halt.” Because of the disrespect, I go to silence and remain there. What do you do if another continually disrespects you every time you attempt to have a crucial conversation?

Signed, Seeking Respect

Dear Seeking Respect,

I can assure you that you’re not the only one who’s been driven loopy by disrespect. Since the “loop” you describe often shows up in small, intermittent outbreaks at first, the tendency is to tolerate it initially. “It’s just that once,” you tell yourself, “it probably won’t happen again.” Until it does. And then you’re stuck with it—at least that’s the way it feels. And as you well know, repeated violations of respect cause the conversation to come to a halt as we shift to trying to preserve or regain respect.

But for those who understand this axiom, there’s hope: when people don’t feel safe, they don’t dialogue. This is true regardless of how much power you have in any given situation. When you don’t feel safe, you look for ways to use your power to control the outcome. Your silence is an attempt to control a situation in which you don’t feel safe. But if you can make it safe, you can talk to almost anyone about almost anything. Which means there’s hope.

Feeling safe in a conversation is a byproduct of feeling a sense of mutuality. In other words, when I believe we have mutual purpose—common goals, objectives, and interests—I’ll enter the conversation. And when I feel that you respect me, I’m willing to continue in a conversation even when it turns crucial. The two conditions are essential to maintaining dialogue in the face of disagreement.

Now while you focused mainly on disrespect in your question, purpose is also important. It’s clear how these two conditions are distinct, but not always as clear as to how they are related. When you work on one, you’re working on the other. So, when you establish mutual purpose, it boosts the feeling of respect you have for the other. And, when there’s mutual respect, it reinforces your sense of mutual purpose. And while you can’t fully address problems of disrespect by establishing mutual purpose, it can be a good place to start. Let me illustrate.

There once was a petite and brilliant analyst named Sun Lee. She was considered the “number whisperer” of her team; she could tame any data set she came across. She discovered her affection for numbers during her younger years in China, fully embraced it during her university studies in the United States, and settled into an organization with plenty of free-range data sets to keep her happily engaged.

On that same team resided a mountain of a man who loved to see data tamed: Frank. Frank led the team. He measured about six foot three inches tall and had spent several years filling in his tall frame so he had enough bulk to block out the sun when he stood over one of his team members. He knew he was imposing and he used his size to get things done—but only when it was necessary. Which was becoming increasingly frequent.

Sun Lee knew this all too well. She had both seen and experienced what everyone referred to as “Frank’s style.” She noticed it was becoming a problem for her team, and more importantly, for herself.

One day, Frank came bursting onto the floor. “Sun Lee! Sun Lee, where are you?!” Sun’s teammates instinctively ducked into their cubicles, opening a clear path for Frank to Sun Lee’s desk. Frank started his tirade when he was twenty-five away, which culminated with a dramatic paper throw-down on her desk. “The numbers are wrong! The numbers are wrong! And if these numbers are wrong, then everything’s wrong!”

Again, the thing that was so unusual about this interaction was that it wasn’t unusual at all. Frank was often disrespectful when problem-solving. And notice here, he and Sun have the same purpose: tame a data set. But Frank’s disrespectful approach put him at cross-purposes with others. (Notice the interplay of purpose and respect in motion.)

As Frank leaned into solving this problem, Sun Lee tried something new. She held up her hand to pause Frank and asked, “Frank, do you want those numbers to be right?” (Notice she’s circling back to mutual purpose here.) “Of course I want those numbers to be right!” he shot back. But she didn’t stop there. She realized that re-establishing mutual purpose would only go so far to rebuild mutual respect. She continued with, “I do too, but the way you’re talking to me doesn’t make me feel like getting those numbers right.” Frank stopped, took a step back, and looked at her. Sun Lee asked a few more questions to better understand the problem, identified the mistake and laid a plan to correct it.

What made her approach effective was that she used mutual purpose to frame the real problem, which wasn’t the numbers but the way she was being treated. She made the lack of respect she was experiencing discussable. Sun Lee started a new pattern with Frank. He learned that he didn’t need to loom and boom to accomplish his purpose. It was a new starting point for the whole team.

See if you can establish mutual purpose to frame a conversation about respect. It won’t necessarily be easy, and it may take a while for your peer to change how he or she dialogues with you. If you find they aren’t able to make a shift, you may need to alter some of the parameters of your relationship, like how and when you interact. And remember, if this is a coworker you’re talking about and you find the situation completely intractable after attempting the conversation, you can always bring in an appropriate HR person to help. Finally, in extreme cases, you may need to consider distancing yourself from this person.

All the best,


Crucial Conversations QA

Balancing Stakeholders

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Crucial Conversations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I believe it’s paramount to maintain a positive working relationship with all of our potential vendors, whether we use them or not. The goodwill of healthy person-to-person relationships often translates into discounts, freebies, and other considerations that benefit my company in the long run.

At issue is what happens when a campaign doesn’t work or if we have a disagreement with a vendor. My superior’s knee-jerk response is to insist that we never work with the company again. He appears to enjoy this tactic and even preempts me by canceling contracts. Given my beliefs and that our niche market has a limited selection of vendors, this feels premature and reactive to me. How can I help him understand that his approach is detrimental to our marketing program and is making my own job that much harder?


A Dear Peacemaker,

To answer this question, I need to hark back to the creation of our name: VitalSmarts. (By the way, I love to hark.) For many years, as we consulted with managers and teams, we used a tool we called the Death-to-Vitality Continuum. The essence of the tool is this: Every individual, team, or organization fits on a continuum between death and vitality and is moving one way or the other. A leader’s primary responsibility is to help move her- or himself, her team, or his organization measurably toward vitality. The skills and tactics that move them toward vitality are the “smarts.” Hence our name, VitalSmarts.

As part of this strategy, we defined what vital means. In every case, and particularly in your situation, being vital means having all stakeholders willing and able to maintain a positive relationship with you. This goal becomes a balancing act. Some of the actions we take to please one stakeholder can negatively affect another. For example, if you lower the price of your service, you may find that you don’t have the revenue to pay your employees well. On the other hand, if you give employees a raise, and then raise the price of your service, fewer customers may purchase it. In either case, your organization may become less vital.

Keeping all stakeholders balanced can be difficult. There are other strategies that can also cause imbalance. One of those is process improvement. In complicated processes, leaders sometimes try to streamline one part of the process to reduce steps and costs, unwittingly moving the work and the cost to another department or team. And the new frustration can stay buried for months. I repeat, keeping all stakeholders in balance is difficult and important. That’s why in the best organizations, leaders have balanced scorecards that help them frequently see what’s happening so they can analyze and adjust.

Before I get to your situation, let me highlight one other factor. Not all stakeholders are equally visible or regularly measured. For example, many teams and organizations have measures that can allow a lag in the information they use to inform decisions. Often, financial measures are conducted daily, customer satisfaction measures monthly, and employee satisfaction yearly. A lot of dissatisfaction can grow in that time span. It is also interesting to note that when it comes time to identify key stakeholders, too often, one or more are overlooked until there is a crisis. Among the stakeholders that are always identified are owners, customers, financial institutions, and employees. Vendors, suppliers, regulators, and resellers however, are often missed. When any of these become unable or unwilling to maintain a positive relationship with the organization, vitality can suffer.

So here is some advice on talking with your superior to ensure your organization remains balanced and vital:

1. Share how vendors are important stakeholders. Be specific about how having a positive relationship has helped you, your team, and the company. Tell detailed stories about how a specific vendor went the extra mile to help your company out of a jam because your relationship with that vendor was positive.

2. Share how a relationship that has been improved is often better than one that has never met with a difficulty. Research on customer satisfaction supports this. If a customer has a negative experience with a company and that company responds with an appropriate solution, the customer’s loyalty is higher than that of a customer who has never had a problem to begin with. I’m not suggesting that you create a problem to solve, but that you solve the ones that come. Share stories about how this has worked for you.

3. Put the right issue on the table with your boss. You have two issues. One difference you have with your boss is opposing opinions about stakeholders in general and vendors in specific. You need to dialogue about that difference of opinion. You also have a second issue: your superior’s actions with vendors and how they have put important relationships at risk and made your job harder. The second issue is harder to discuss, I imagine. But talking about the first issue, and not getting to the second will not solve your concerns. You need to find out why he does what he does. You need to really try to understand. You need to be equally determined to help him understand how his actions are affecting your job. You need to get to the point where both of you understand what actions you each need to take to allow trust to be present in your relationship.

Your challenge is typical of many differences that affect how people work or live together. People have differences about what is the highest priority, about what defines quality, about what order things should be done in, and so on. There are enough differences to go around. Often these differences are unseen and unstated until there is some friction. “Ah, there’s the rub.” To solve these differences, you need to make sure you create the conditions of Safety, Mutual Respect, and Mutual Purpose. Then candidly and courteously put the issue on the table. Even with our best efforts, we sometimes don’t find a mutual solution; but with our best efforts, odds are we will.

I wish you well,