27 September 2023

Seven ways to handle office insults

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Working relationships are rarely all smooth sailing. Megan Malugani* gathers advice from experts on how to stop those micro-insults from getting out of control.

A co-worker 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 are all-too-common scenarios in today’s fast-paced office culture, but such minor snubs and acts of thoughtlessness — let’s call them micro-insults — 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.

React only when necessary

Often, the best way to deal with a micro-insult is to do nothing.

President of the National Conflict Resolution Centre, Steve Dinkin says if the insult occurs infrequently or only on occasion, the best thing to do is not react.

“This approach tends to de-escalate a potential workplace conflict,” Dinkin says.

Don’t go into attack mode

However, he suggests if a co-worker’s micro-insults 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 behaviour is impacting you as opposed to blaming or attacking the person by saying something like ‘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 the co-worker’s defensiveness and change the tone of a difficult conversation from hostile to productive.

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.”

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.

Organisational Development Consultant and author of Making Your Workplace Work Best for You, Quint Studer recommends keeping the outcome in mind.

“Another effective approach to encourage a co-worker to change a workplace behaviour is saying, ‘I’m sure you don’t realise this is distracting to me, because I know if you did it wouldn’t happen,” Studer says.

“Give people exit strategies.”

Don’t take it personally

Psychiatrist and leadership consultant, Gabriela Cora says people should not be overly sensitive about workplace micro-insults.

“Stewing over every little slight can weaken your focus and damage your productivity,” Cora says.

“Avoid perceiving all these micro-insults as personal.

“Try to constantly bring it back to business.”

If you’re insulted about the boss cancelling a meeting with you, consider instead that what you were going to discuss was not the highest business priority right now.

“If someone constantly interrupts you, that person is probably interrupting everyone else, too.

“The cooler you remain in these circumstances, the better,” Cora says.

Dinkin says that something you perceive as a direct insult can often be classified as unprofessional behaviour.

“If a person who is working from home drops their phone call with you to answer the door, that’s just behaviour that’s frustrating and not an insult to you,” he says.

Accept that not everyone likes you

“Not everyone in your workplace will be your friend — or even friendly,” Cora says.

“Don’t spend more than 30 seconds dwelling on it.”

If you have a great idea that you’re convinced will improve your organisation’s performance, act confident during your presentation, and don’t be derailed by that one unfriendly eye-roller.

Share your concerns

A trusted colleague can often help you put a perceived slight into perspective.

Studer says 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’.

He 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.

*Megan Malugani is a communications strategist, content developer, writer and editor.

This article first appeared on the Monster.com career advice website.

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