The Policy

Dealing with disrespect in the workplace can be beyond confusing. How can we handle it? What's the right action to take?

Today, I encountered legitimate disrespect from a colleague.  No, not borderline, not fuzzy, not sort of. I encountered disrespect in its purest form.

Dealing with disrespect in the workplace can be beyond confusing.  How can we handle it?  What's the right action to take?

When someone disrespects us, it feels almost impossible to deal with.

Before I dissect the drama with you, I wonder, what it is exactly that constitutes as disrespect in a professional setting?  Dr. Marla Gottschalk in her article, Not Feeling the R-E-S-P-E-C-T? How to Handle It, fruitfully describes what happened to me today:

We have all experienced moments in our work lives when we’ve felt disrespected. These situations can catch us completely off-guard — leaving us shocked and frozen in our tracks. Whether disrespect manifests as an ill-timed interruption, an openly snide remark or simply being ignored, feeling disrespected is difficult to handle. We might feel engulfed in a wave of emotions, experiencing shock, humiliation, anger, or sadness (Gottschalk 2013).

Well, according to Gottschalk, I did indeed come across blatant disrespect.  I was, in fact, “caught off guard,” “shocked,” “engulfed in a wave of emotions.”

When a colleague, at my same level on the professional totem pole,barked at me that I had no right to enter the computer room she was in, that she was still entitled to five minutes of her own time, I was confused: a) I have the door code to enter at any time b) She is scheduled to leave at 2:20, whilst I am scheduled to enter at 2:30.  It was 2:22, during the neutral, in-between time.  She snapped at me that she still had until 2:25 for herself and that I should have access at 2:25.  I responded, “That’s fine.  Take your time.  I’m just going to put my bag down.”

“No!” she responded with a snarky tone, “this is my five minutes.”  I felt like a deer standing in headlights, like a waitress getting pawed or a like kid being wrongfully blamed for breaking a lamp.  What is one to do?

Dealing with disrespect in the workplace can be beyond confusing.  How can we handle it?  What's the right action to take?

This is literally the way deer look when they are confused.

I responded, “I’ve never heard of that.  That’s not a policy.”

“Yes. Yes, it is a policy,” she uttered.

“No,” I said, “You can’t just invent policies.”

Anyway, along we went, down this whirlwind as she continued to rationalize her made-up policy.  Until, as though I was speaking to a student, I said, “Look, with all this time you spent yelling at me, you could have gotten your work done.”  In the end, she stood strong, holding on to her “policy.” At least she’s got stamina, I thought, stubborn stamina (I should probably mention that this wasn’t the first time this person has  been rude to me).

A few hours later, I ran the situation by a superior I feel comfortable with.  She validated my concerns and offered me the advice of sending an email communicating my distress in a formal, but concerned way.  I wrote the email, and held my breath as I hit send.  This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this in a professional realm.  As I read through Dr. Gottschalk’s post on disrespect in the work place, I gained some of my pride back.  Without knowing what the drill is for this type of incident, I used my critical thinking before making my next move.  My plan of action turned out to follow Dr. Gottschalk’s advice and tips.  Hopefully, all will turn out well and camaraderie will shine.

I don’t like conflict, but I also don’t like getting spoken to so rudely.  Yes, I’m young.  Yes, I was nervous.  Yes, she has been in the field longer than I have.  Yet I remind myself these are not valid reasons for blatant disrespect or verbal bullying, regardless of anything.

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  • Carolina says:

    Nothing justifies verbal bullying even if you may have encroached on what she perceives as “her time.” I have walked in on colleagues during this “neutral time” and quietly put my bag down and waited for them to finish picking up or talking to students. It never seems to bother them. I’ve also had colleagues rudely storm in as soon as my class is over without letting me even pick up my books! You on the other hand were polite and willing to withdraw. Her offensive response says much about her own insecurities, arrogance and lack of collegiality. Just keep doing what you do…..

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