Learn How to Respond to Common Workplace Put-Downs
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Imagine these separate scenarios happening in one week at work:
This is the third time you’ve been interrupted by the same person during a single meeting…
You offer a suggestion and, as often happens, a colleague dismisses it as something tried before that won’t work now…
At an after-work social gathering you’re asked personal questions about your salary and the cost of your home…
You walk into a meeting late and someone who is after your job quips, “Look who decided to join us”…
An idea you introduced gets no traction until it’s introduced a half hour later by someone else.
Countless people drive to work wondering what will hit them that day -- worried they’ll be caught off guard, taken for granted, used, insulted or cornered. The 2013 and 2014 Everest College Stress at Work Surveys indicate that at least 80 percent of Americans are “frazzled” at work. Low pay, heavy workloads and uncertainty contribute to this problem but so, too, do co-workers.
When people experience a lack of control at work, their stress increases and their interpersonal relationships suffer. Under such circumstances, it becomes imperative to know how to manage your environment.
By being predictable, easily provoked to defensiveness, frustration or acquiescence as examples, we give others the power to manage our lives and stress level.
I watched a person skilled at taking more than his share of control make this happen to an entire group of people. At meetings he would regularly act reluctant to agree to do something the rest of the division wanted to do. He’d argue against proposals until all were focused on convincing him. Then, when the meeting was about to end with everyone frustrated, he’d say, “If this is really important to all of you, I’ll go along with it.” He was made an instant hero each time he did that.
People like this know how to surreptitiously manage and it doesn’t hurt their plans when others make it easier by not noticing and not knowing how to respond.
With stress rising for most of us at work, it’s even more important to make sure we’re not predictable, especially in the presence of people who will use that for their own ends. Are you easily frazzled, thrown off your game, so to speak, or made angry? Do you slip into conflict, get flustered and distracted by the actions of someone who stands to gain if you do?
Conversations are the building blocks of careers. If they go wrong on a regular basis, potentially successful careers can be derailed. It’s wise to take a good look at how you contribute to negative conversational patterns by responding in predictable ways that give others the upper hand.
Let’s look one of the situations I cited earlier. If someone dismisses an idea you suggest as something that’s been tried before and didn’t work, you are facing a communication choice point. Many people would be cowed by this kind of criticism. Others might be provoked to a harsh response. A more useful comeback might be: “Yes. We did something like it. And we learned from it, so we’re better positioned now.”
Take note of some of the put-downs where you work. Think of how you would have handled them or could have handled better the ones that happened to you. Stress at work can be lowered considerably by the confidence derived from knowing you can handle put-downs, slights, taunts, and tests. While it would be preferable to just do our jobs well and not have to be bothered with such provocations, while insisting on that someone else is showing how he or she can handle whatever comes along.
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