Seven tips for dealing with office insults
Minor snubs and acts of thoughtlessness can not only put you in a bad mood, but also sour workplace relationships.
A coworker constantly taps away on his iPhone while you’re speaking at a meeting. Another has a tendency to interrupt you every two minutes. Then there’s your boss who constantly cancels meetings with you.
Sure, these may be all-too-common scenarios in today’s fast-paced office culture. But such minor snubs and acts of thoughtlessness—let’s call them microinsults—can not only put you in a bad mood, but also sour workplace relationships.
Workplace experts offer seven tips on how to react (and not react) to workplace slights:
1. React only when necessary
Often, the best way to deal with a microinsult is to do nothing, says Steve Dinkin, president of the National Conflict Resolution Center and co-author of The Exchange: A Bold and Proven Approach to Resolving Workplace Conflict. “If the insult occurs infrequently or only on occasion, the best thing to do is to not react,” Dinkin says. This approach tends to de-escalate a potential workplace conflict, he says.
2. Don’t go into attack mode
If a coworker’s microinsults occur repeatedly, you do need to address the issue. Usually, a discussion with the offender should occur privately and one-on-one, Dinkin says. Choose your words carefully. State what the issue is and how it is impacting you.
To address the iPhone user in your meeting, you might say something like, “When I’m talking in our staff meeting and I hear clicking on the iPhone, it’s a challenge for me to focus and make my presentation.”
Describe how the behavior is impacting you as opposed to blaming or attacking the person by saying, “You’re always disrupting the meeting,” Dinkin says. Then, listen respectfully to the person’s response so you can effectively discuss the underlying issues.
This type of communication will reduce your coworker’s defensiveness and change the tone of a difficult conversation from hostile to productive.
3. Don’t confront your insulter via email
Conduct conversations about perceived slights face-to-face or over the phone, Dinkin recommends. “Emails are often misinterpreted,” he says.
4. Focus on the big picture
Remember that your goal is to prevent yourself from being distracted by an iPhone, not to blame or humiliate your colleague. “Keep the outcome in mind,” says Quint Studer, an organizational development consultant and author of Making Your Workplace Work Best for You.
Another effective approach to encourage a coworker to change a workplace behavior is saying, “I’m sure you don’t realize this is distracting to me, because I know if you did then it wouldn’t happen,” he says. “Give people exit strategies.”
5. Don’t take it personally
Try not to be overly sensitive about workplace microinsults. Stewing over every little slight can weaken your focus and damage your productivity, says Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, a psychiatrist and leadership consultant based in Miami. “Avoid perceiving all these microinsults as personal,” she says. “Try to constantly bring it back to business.”
If you’re insulted about the boss canceling a meeting with you, consider instead that what you were going to discuss is not the highest business priority right now, Cora says. And if someone constantly interrupts you, that person is probably interrupting everyone else, too. “The cooler you remain in these circumstances, the better,” she adds.
Dinkin says that something you perceive as a direct insult can often be classified as unprofessional behavior. “If a person who is working from home drops their phone call with you to go answer the door, that’s just behavior that’s frustrating and not an insult to you,” he says.
6. Accept that not everyone likes you
Not everyone in your workplace will be your friend—or even friendly. “Don’t spend more than 30 seconds dwelling on it,” Cora says. So if you have a great idea that you’re convinced will improve your company’s bottom line, act confident during your presentation—and don’t be derailed by that one unfriendly eye-roller.
7. Share your concerns
A trusted colleague can often help you put a perceived slight into perspective. “It’s not about gossiping or bad-mouthing someone, but about saying, ‘Here’s how I’m thinking and my perception of a situation—I’d like your feedback,’” Studer says. Studer recalls a time when he was very upset about something and shared it with someone he trusted. “When they said they thought I was overreacting, it made me think,” he says.