Wildfires consumed massive acreage of Canadian land in the summer of 2023. The smoke from the fires was so pervasive that it spread throughout much of the United States.
Air quality alerts warned folks to stay inside for days at a time. The air was poisonous to breathe. Taking a hike without a respirator was like smoking packs of cigarettes as you went.
Ash covered vehicles and spread throughout cities, creating a post-apocalyptic scene worthy of an Oscar in cinematography.
The smoke consumed everything.
Weddings. Funerals. Vacations. Getting the mail.
It did not matter how lovely, meaningful, or mundane the event – the poisonous, ash-filled air dominated everyone’s attention.
Disrespect has a similar impact on people in the workplace. It dominates. An atmosphere of disrespect clouds everything, regardless of how wonderful it may be.
Ron McMillian says it well in the book Crucial Conversations.
“Respect is like air. As long as it’s present, nobody thinks about it. But if you take it away, it’s all that people can think about. The instant people perceive disrespect in a conversation, the interaction is no longer about the original purpose—it is now about defending dignity.”
Disrespect cannot be ignored.
You must know how to handle disrespect in the workplace, or your business – and the people within it – will be poisoned.
Disrespectful Behavior in the Workplace is Poisonous
Did your caregivers tell you how to deal with bullies? Perhaps you were told to “just ignore them.”
That may work in some cases. It may even be necessary. Confronting an abuser requires tremendous courage.
The challenge with ignoring disrespectful or bully-like behavior is that it just kicks the can down the road for someone else to deal with.
Leaders must know how to handle disrespect in the workplace, or they will lose the best workers in that place.
“A new Pew Research Center survey finds that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons Americans quit their jobs…”
One way workers have learned to cope with a disrespectful atmosphere at work is through quiet quitting. They just disengage.
And it costs trillions.
“The global economy is losing almost $9 trillion, according to analytics firm Gallup, equivalent to as much as 9% of the world’s GDP” due to quiet quitting.
The financial cost is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The toll disrespect takes on a person’s mental health is significant. It impacts their relationships outside of the workplace.
Like the smoke and ash from the fires that started in Canada – disrespect in the workplace creates a toxic cloud that spreads.
And you must do something about it.
Knowing How to Handle Disrespect in the Workplace Can Set You Apart
President Franklin Roosevelt said, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
As a business leader, you may already feel overwhelmed by the task in front of you. You must balance the budget, increase market share, navigate overhead, and more.
It can feel like you are sailing against the wind already – and then the waves crash against your vessel, threatening your crew and voyage.
Now you have to deal with disrespectful employees on top of everything else?
Creating a culture of respect is well within your wheelhouse. It doesn’t require an MBA. And it may give your company a competitive edge that no budget can compete with.
Think about it.
What would happen if employees were respected?
If people are jumping ship because of being disrespected, how many quality team members could be retained – or attracted – by a culture of dignity and respect?
You may not have the biggest budget, the best equipment, or a prime location. But if you treat your team respectfully, you will have more to offer than money can buy.
Seven Steps to Handle Disrespectful Behavior in the Workplace
The smoke and ash of disrespect won’t dissipate on its own. These seven simple, courageous steps will help clear the smog and get your team sailing on smooth waters again.
1: Determine if the Behavior is Disrespectful
Victims should always get the benefit of the doubt. It requires massive courage to come forward and address bully-like behavior.
Accusations of disrespect and abuse must be addressed with the utmost urgency and integrity.
To handle disrespect in the workplace appropriately, you must ensure that what you are addressing is truly disrespect.
Some people have more sensitive temperaments than others. Everyone makes mistakes. Life outside of work impacts morale.
To cultivate a culture of respect, you must not confuse an employee having a bad day for being disrespectful.
Consider the following. Look at how these values overlap but are still distinct.
One employee may not have compassion for another’s life circumstances. That does not mean they are being disrespectful.
This is not to excuse or justify any negative behaviors. It’s establishing a level of emotional intelligence that will allow you to address real issues accurately.
2: Recognize That Disrespectful Behavior is About Them, Not You
No one needs to earn respect. Every human being is worthy of dignity and respect.
Employees who act disrespectfully in the workplace reveal more about their character than those they disrespect.
Take a step back and recognize that as personal as the attack may feel, it’s ultimately not about the one being disrespected.
Something inside the aggressor is causing them to act out in disrespectful ways. That’s on them.
3: Turn the Other Cheek
This is one of the most common and misunderstood sayings of Jesus.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Turning the other cheek is not enabling abusers nor silencing the abused. It’s empowering people to live up to the level of health and maturity they have attained.
Counselors Henry Could and John Townsand address this in their book “How People Grow.”
They rightly say that if we retaliate whenever someone wrongs us, we consign ourselves to the emotional maturity of the least mature person around us.
We can do better. We can even respectfully address disrespectful behavior.
4: Address Disrespectful Behavior in the Workplace Head On
Believing the best about others is essential in cultivating a healthy workplace. You can address disrespectful behavior in a respectful and caring way. Here’s how.
- Clarify that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.
- Ask open-ended questions
- Acknowledge their life outside of work
- Get below the waterline
- Offer support needed to address any deeper issues
It’s only respectful to believe the best about people and call them up to a higher standard of character.
5: Document Incidents of Disrespectful Behavior in the Workplace
Skilled leaders will do the work necessary to differentiate between a disrespectful event and a pattern. An employee who behaves disrespectfully because they are having a lousy day requires a different approach than one who demonstrates a disrespectful disposition.
Documenting the incidents will help clarify the approach – and consequences – required.
6: Care for the One(s) Being Disrespected
No victim shaming allowed. Acknowledge that, just like the smoke from the Canadian wildfires made it hard for people to breathe, disrespectful behavior in the workplace makes it hard to perform.
And may have had negative repercussions on their life outside of the workplace.
Don’t be afraid to apologize. Empathize. Even if you were not the offender. You can still acknowledge that you understand how the victim(s) may feel and that you care about that.
In some cases, that may be enough.
When it’s not, offer the support needed to empower people to repair any mental health damage that may have been caused.
7: Encourage Reconciliation
Forgiveness is a gift to the forgiver. It releases them from the retraumatizing burden of falsely believing they must act as their offenders’ judge, jury, and executioner.
The old saying rings true:
“Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Forgiveness is not sweeping offenses under the rug. That’s dismissal.
To forgive someone, you must first name and condemn the offense – and then release the offender.
Now, that does not mean that the offender should be fully trusted. Trust must be earned. But forgiveness can be granted freely.
Make the World a Better Place by Making Your Workplace Better
The opportunity before you, leader, is astounding. You can make the world a better place by making your workplace better.
If you address disrespectful behavior in the workplace:
- Productivity will increase
- Top talent will be attracted
- Emotional health will improve
- The world will become a better place
No one should live with an impending sense of dread, filled with anxiety, because they anticipate spending their day in a disrespectful work environment.
Implementing the seven steps discussed here will blow away the smoke and ash caused by disrespectful behavior in the workplace. It will allow your team to see clearly, breathe deeply, and work productively.
We’re here to help you put this into motion. Our team building workshops will uncover issues and equip you to resolve them.
We’ll train your team in the classroom, get you out on the water, and dedicate time to providing you with an actionable plan to guide you toward the progress you desire.
Reach out today for a free consultation!