A Coaching Power Tool Created by Jennifer Roberts
(Transition Coach, UNITED STATES)
Have you ever been in a discussion with someone when there was a disagreement and you felt extremely disrespected? Maybe the other person started texting while you were speaking about your side of an argument, which blatantly disregarded your opinion as being worthy of listening to. A person might have even called you stupid for holding a certain belief or for supporting a cause he/she doesn’t believe in. These actions can have a quick and lasting effect on not only your interaction with that person, but the negative feelings can carry over into other conversations you have afterward. Disrespect has a way of rippling past the person that was initially hit with it, and soon it can impact a multitude of others. If we aren’t careful, we can become accustomed to this behavior and even start naturally spreading it ourselves. Instead of responding with equal parts disrespect, we can choose civility. According to the Institute for Civility in Government, the following is an example of what civility entails:
“Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step. It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action. But it is political, too, in the sense that it is about negotiating interpersonal power such that everyone’s voice is heard, and nobody is ignored.
And civility begins with us.”
What is Disrespect?
A great first step in shifting our actions from disrespect to civility is to first acknowledge where we see disrespect. According to the Harvard Business Review, the workplace is a huge offender. Their research showed that 98% of the people they polled said they experienced uncivil behavior in the workplace. However, the workplace is surely not the only area where disrespect can be seen. Disrespect can show up in almost any area of life, and we may be guilty of it without even knowing. Study.com has provided the following seven signs of disrespect that can show up in everyday relationships between friends, colleagues, and even romantic partners:
- A lack of regard for the other’s freedom and space
- A lack of respect for the other’s time
- A lack of attentiveness to the other’s need for safety
- A lack of consideration of boundaries
- A need to always be right
- Signs of defensiveness
- Disregard for financial security
We may not be guilty of each of these items, but we have probably done one or more of these actions throughout our lives. We also have most likely -experienced it on the receiving end. If we can learn to recognize when we are either being disrespectful or being disrespected, we can help turn around this cycle and move into civility.
What is Civility?
Before taking a look at how to turn from disrespect and move toward civility, let’s take a deeper look into what civility entails. According to Nicole Billante and Peter Saunders, in their article, “Why Civility Matters,” there are three elements of civility: civility as respect for others, civility as public behavior, and civility as self-regulation. As Billante and Saunders provide examples and definitions to each aspect of civility, they conclude how these three aspects work together to form one definition as follows.
“Civility is behavior in public which demonstrates respect for others and which entails curtailing one’s own immediate self-interest when appropriate. Defined in this way, civility is clearly a demanding public virtue. To be prepared to sacrifice one’s own self-interest out of respect for people one has never met is a ‘big ask’.”
When we choose civility, we show that our relationship with humanity is more important than proving we are right. When we choose civility, we show appreciation for hard work being done, acknowledge improvements, and positively impact other people’s lives. From a simple smile to a stranger you are passing on the sidewalk, to handwriting a thank you note to a coworker, a little bit of civility goes a long way. Civility can also be shown during times of disagreement. A person can maintain civility during a disagreement by standing for his/her own opinion, but openly listening to the opposing side. It can be exemplified by having empathy for the other person, or by diffusing a situation that could be escalating. By staying in a judge-free space and showing respect for someone whom you do not see eye to eye on an issue is being civil. Disagreement can be uncomfortable, but we must learn to disagree without disrespect if we want to be civil.
Civility does not here mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good. – Mohandas K. Gandhi
How do we turn disrespect into civility?
If we find ourselves in a disrespectful environment that has the potential to send us into a toxic mindset of disrespect towards others or ourselves, we can take certain actions to lead us in the direction of civility. One of the first steps in being civil is having empathy for others. As provided in the presentation presented by the Counseling Center, “Civility is the behavioral manifestation of empathy.” When we empathize with others, we take great care to consider how what we say and do will impact them and the way they feel. It may be hard to “care” how someone else feels when they have disrespected you, but trying to see the situation from their point of view can help. Also, taking into account that their outward expression of disrespect toward you may not be personal to you at all can help. There may be larger issues at stake for this individual. He/she may be fighting battles you are unaware of, and some empathy could go a long way. For example, consider the following interaction between a barista and an angry customer:
A barista is working tirelessly during the mid-morning rush. She has informed the cashier that the shop is out of almond milk and asks the cashier to pass along the message to any customers who want to order it. The cashier forgets to tell one customer, and the customer proceeds to yell at the barista when she sees the barista using oat milk. The barista apologizes and explains that they have run out during the mid-morning rush, and there isn’t time to purchase anymore at the moment because the shop is so busy. Instead of understanding that it isn’t the barista’s fault, the customer continues to complain to the barista as the barista is trying to keep up with all of the orders that are coming in.
The barista has two options: she can react to the disrespectful behavior with equal amounts of disrespect. The barista is under stress. She doesn’t need to deal with the customer’s complaints and condescending remarks. After all, her only job is to make drinks. The cashier is the one that is supposed to handle dissatisfied customers. However, that isn’t the path she takes. Instead, the barista pauses, gathers herself, and realizes that this situation may not be about just almond milk. The anger that the customer has shown toward her may not be personal to the barista at all. That customer may have much more going on under the surface, and not having her specific milk was just the tipping point. The barista stops making drinks and shows the customer pictures of the new kitten she has adopted that week. She tells the customer about her first experiences with the kitten, why she adopted her, and she even shows the customer a video of her new kitten. The customer’s demeanor immediately changes. She begins to open up about how rough of a week she has been having and how the coffee shop is the best part of her day. Looking forward to her cup of coffee each day is the one thing that has gotten her through this hard week. Now the barista understands why not having the milk is such a big deal. She has great empathy for the customer and is relieved that she chose the path of civility instead of disrespect.
A simple act of kindness can go a long way in someone’s life. When we are allowed to respond to disrespect, taking a moment to choose which path we want to take can lead to wonderful resolutions. Just as disrespect can have a ripple effect, so can civility.
If a client is struggling with feeling disrespectful toward an individual (ie. a coworker, a manager, a relative, etc.) it could be beneficial to explore the reason(s) why there is a desire for disrespect. Once there is a defined reason for “what has caused this feeling” of desire to be disrespectful, there can be an exploration about what can be done to resolve this “reason”. First comes the “why” then comes the “next step” action to move from disrespect to civility. However, this is all determined by whether or not the client wants to have a resolution.
If a client is struggling with feeling disrespected by an individual, there is a different type of work that needs to be put into a session. Here, the client has less control over the situation itself, but he/she has control over his/her response to it. As shown in the Barista example above, how someone responds to a disrespectful situation can defuse hard feelings and the potential to make matters worse. Assisting a client in gaining tools to work toward civility when a disrespectful situation arises could be very beneficial for the client. These tools will depend on the client and what works best for him/her. Again, this is all determined by whether or not the client wants to create/discover these tools for his/herself.
Forum Reflection Questions
- Have you ever found yourself in a situation that you felt disrespected? If so, how did you respond? How do you wish you had responded if you could do it again?
- What tools do you have that could help you if a potentially disrespectful situation arises in the future?
- It is sometimes hard to determine that you have been disrespected at the moment that it is happening. What is your definition of disrespect, so you can be prepared for that moment should it happen?
Additional Information regarding civility: