Most people would agree, it makes sense to have ‘thick skin’ so when people say and do things that are negative toward you those things do not cause injury.
Some people are bullies. Nobody trusts them. But, bullies can get to you if you let them. Bullies are, by nature, offensive and if your skin is too thin then bullies can offend you. So, from a young age, we are taught how to deal with bullies. We know the intent behind the actions of the bully: the intent is to offend. So, when our willpower holds firm we can cause the bullies to fail. There are many examples of how this process can work. Mahatma Gandhi illustrated it to the world during the first half of the 20th Century.
So, when we see intent to offend coming at us we label the ‘offender’ a bully and we call up our ‘defensive strategies’ to protect ourselves from offense and injury.
The question is, egos being what egos are – how skilled are we at differentiating between bullies and other folks who mean no offense?
There is no question: from time to time we misinterpret other people’s intentions. Attribution bias can confuse us. Our moods can influence us. All kinds of things can fog our judgment.
Here is a single example, everyone can relate to: interrupting a conversation.
Interrupting an ordinary ‘everyday’ conversation
When you are speaking and someone interrupts you, how do you feel and what do you do?
We see many different reactions…here’s a sampling:
- Some people stop talking mid-sentence and allow the other person to replace their conversation
- Some people keep talking, as if the interruption didn’t happen
- Some people raise their voice in an effort to override the interrupter
- Some people politely say something like, “Excuse me, may I finish my point.”
- Some people less-politely and more-firmly say something like, “Hey, it’s not your turn to talk.”
- Some people get very angry and say much worse things, using much-louder voices
Whether the interruption came from an intentional bully or from an excited friend or co-worker…it could be received as an incivility. When received as an incivility, the interruption will cause the offended person to become more timid or become more vexed…it depends on the person’s ‘nature’.
Now, all that can happen with everyday occurrences…like, an interruption of conversation.
Imagine how the interpersonal sensitivities become magnified when there is more at stake. Imagine how the situation changes when one person is The Boss and the other person…isn’t. The balance of power in conversation has shifted in favour of one person. [At least, most bosses would tell you that.] So, when conversations take place the game has changed:
- What happens when the subordinate interrupts the boss?
- What happens when the boss interrupts the subordinate?
- What happens when the boss criticises the subordinate?
- What happens when the subordinate criticises the boss?
Now, when it comes to incivilities and offending other people the example of interrupting a conversation is like a shaving off the tip of the iceberg.
The list of things that can offend people is lengthy…the ways to offend are almost limitless.
- Talking loudly in common areas
- Arriving late
- Not introducing a newcomer
- Failing to return a phone call
- Showing little interest in another individual’s opinion
Without much thought…each of us could add a few dozen more examples to the list.
Whether we intend to offend others or not…often…they get offended.
Constructive Criticism…no question – that’s an oxymoron.
PS: To gain business advantage, we recommend self-monitoring and “The Master Rules
Source of this list: ‘The Cost of Bad Behavior – How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It,’ Christine Persona & Christine Porath . From this book…
The Top Ten Things a Firm Should Do to Create a Civil Workplace
- Set Zero-Tolerance Expectations
- Look in the Mirror
- Weed Out Trouble Before it Enters Your Organization
- Tech Civility
- Train Employees and Managers How to Recognize and Respond to Signals
- Put Your Ear to the Ground and Listen Carefully
- When Incivility Occurs, Hammer It
- Take Complaints Seriously
- Don’t Make Excuses for Powerful Instigators
- Invest in Post-departure Interviews