In this episode of Relationships at Work, communications and leadership nerd (and host) Russel Lolacher shares a story of how dismissive language can happen at work and how we can stop using it.
Russel tells the story of how leaders can dismiss employees, even when those employees are being honest and vulnerable, and what that dismissal can actually communicate to the larger organization.
Curiosity and awareness can be incredibly helpful in preventing leaders from being dismissive and better supporting those they are in charge of. Russel breaks down how we can take steps to avoid a dismissive communication style.
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Tell me if this sounds familiar.
A large to medium size staff meeting is underway. Leadership at some level is explaining a new initiative or idea that they are either really excited about or understand it’s the next step in whatever the team or teams are working on. They assume that when the open dialogue portion of the meeting comes up, that the dialogue will be focused on the topic of the day. That all questions will be due to curiosity around the next new step that needs to be taken.
But that’s not what happens.
Instead someone or someones, decide that since they have this opportunity, they would like to share some frustrations around problems they’ve seen and experienced over the passed few years. That though this new initiative (what ever it might be) sounds great, that there are longstanding issues that still haven’t been addressed and will make it hard for them to be confident in this quote/unquote exciting new step.
Sound familiar? Relatable? Whether we ourselves have been that individual or not, it happens. I personally have seen it at various places I’ve worked.
So what is a leader’s role here. From the stance of employee engagement and workplace culture, what is a leader to do?
Today, I want to talk about one way they shouldn’t.
Not so long ago, I had a conversation with a leader (whom I'm a big fan of) where they used the term "venting" to dismiss that type of passionately verbalized frustration by an employee at their staff meeting.
And I quote…. "They were just venting."
I’m sure she didn't mean to be dismissive but that is exactly what she was putting on in full display with those words.
In that moment, she labeled to other leaders that that unfiltered, frustrated, truth to power, vulnerable feedback was something not to be taken seriously. “it was just venting.” Words to be put it in a box, and placed on a shelf as something not as important as the feedback shared through channels and tones that they find more accepting and formal and probably not as public.
I know I'm singling out this one exchange but I've seen it a lot over my career.
That isn’t a great example of leadership or supporting employees.
Instead of being dismissive, be curious.
Ask questions like
- What led them to be so frustrated?
- Who is their leader and why does this individual not feel comfortable vocalizing these concerns to them?
- What is being communicated/not communicated to them on this topic?
- Why did they think this public platform was the best way to share their concerns? Are they not being listened to in their own team?
We need to ask WHY, and what led to that person’s frustrated feedback.
What being dismissive communicates…
- Being passionate and caring doesn’t matter.
- Uniformity is more important than diversity in how people communicate.
- It’s not psychologically safe to share your truth to power or challenge the status quo.
- Bad leadership (or those direct reports that should be listening and championing their employees) is the culture.
To stop using dismissive language, consider a few things:
1. Reflect and become aware of Your Language: Take time to reflect on the words and phrases you commonly use. Pay attention to whether any of them come across as dismissive or condescending.
2. Practice Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are communicating with. Consider how your words might be perceived and how they could impact their feelings or self-esteem.
3. Choose Positive Language: Opt for words that are affirming, supportive, and validating. Encourage open dialogue and actively listen to others' perspectives.
4. Ask for Feedback: Seek feedback from colleagues, friends, or family about your communication style. They can help identify any dismissive language patterns you might not be aware of.
5. Take Responsibility: If you catch yourself using dismissive language, take responsibility for your words, apologize if necessary, and make a conscious effort to improve in the future.
How we respond and the language we use in those instances demonstrates how we value those employee relationships and the kind of culture we're perpetuating.