Photo of Gloria Cotton

You’re in a brain-storming meeting. A brilliant idea pops into your head and you’re excited about sharing it with the team. You have the floor. Just as you start explaining your idea, another team member cuts you off—again.

This isn’t the first time this person has interrupted, dismissed or discounted you and what you are saying. It’s become a pattern. Some of the other team members sit up in their chairs and listen attentively to them. Others look at you and then lower their eyes, shrinking in their seats, shaking their heads. One person rolls their eyes and exhales loudly. Everyone notices. But no one challenges the interruption. They just go along with it—again.

What will you do?

This is an example of disrespect in the workplace, a particularly thorny subject made more complicated by corporate politics. But if gone unaddressed, patterns of disrespect – intentional or not – can impact who we work with, who we want to work with, how and what work we do together, engagement and innovation. Over time, feeling disrespected can distract and hinder you and your team from delivering optimal performance and service. It can also increase negative tension and toxicity. In other words, there ain’t nothing good about it.

Here are some things you can do to respectfully address and hopefully stop disrespectful behavior and build physical, intellectual and emotional safety at work.

Acknowledge your feelingsall of them.

You may feel fear and anger, frustration and hopelessness or fatigue and desperation. Or you may feel motivated and challenged, inspired and hopeful or excited and creative. There are many feelings, reactions and responses that can be triggered and stirred up when you feel disrespected about who you are or what you’re doing. It’s important not to judge those feelings. Acknowledge them. You can write them down or speak them aloud. Just do so privately and in ways that are respectful to you and others. Ways that you can be proud of in the moment and in the future.

Be real.

This takes time and energy. You may feel you have neither or that you don’t want to spend either dealing with your co-worker and their behavior. Ask yourself, “What do I win and what do I lose if I do and if I don’t address this issue respectfully?” Your answers to those questions can help identify what your next steps will be.

Engage others.

It’s important to talk with someone else, particularly when you’ve been triggered and feel disrespected. Choose someone you trust to share the situation, impacts and your needs and goals with. CAUTION: We usually seek out someone who will agree with us. That’s called confirmation bias. That’s fine. But also challenge yourself to talk with someone who has or can offer a different or even contrary perspective. They may help you see some things you’ve missed. Factor their input into your strategy then share it with them. Ask them for their reactions and suggestions for improvement.

Identify a synergistic outcome.

Ask yourself, “What’s in it for the other person? What do they win or lose if they do/don’t change their behavior?” Your strategy should take both of your diverse perspectives, concerns, goals, communication styles, personalities, etc., into account. As you develop and review your action plan, ask yourself if anyone else should be in the meeting. Who do you both respect? Whose input will you both value? Who can help you both reach and agree upon a synergistic outcome?

Identify the most appropriate time and place to talk.

You’ve invested quality time and energy in developing your strategic, synergistic action plan.  Be sure the where and when reinforce the importance of your meeting. A quick five-minute, stand-up, water-cooler chat may get you there, but not likely. Eliminate mental, emotional and physical distractions and derailers for both of you as best you can.

Have the meeting with your coworker.

During the conversation, be sure to ask questions to discover and fill in any gaps between what you do and don’t know. Be curious without judgement. Strive for mutual understanding. Clarify intentions and needed behavioral next steps. Consider reviewing how and what got you to the point of disrespect and agree upon ways you’ll each let the other know if you’re beginning to feel uncomfortable in the future. Affirm commitment, engagement and accountability.

Celebrate your growth and success.

Celebrate the respectful way you handled this situation with or without your colleague (or maybe both!), and hopefully, celebrate the new relationship you’ve both begun to build together. After the meeting, remember to check in with the people who helped you. Let them know the outcome of your meeting and the difference they made.