Ways to be treated more respectfully?
November 23, 2018 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I've just gotten off the phone with someone - two someones in fact - who spoke abominably to me. This happens to me a lot even though I am in a respected position! What can I *do* to encourage people to speak to me respectfully?

I know that there will be some aspects of this I can't control - I'm a (white) woman, autistic, and a trauma survivor, and marginalisation is a thing. But if you are someone who generally gets treated respectfully, what are your secrets?

I speak respectfully to everyone. I can't do otherwise - it is a deeply ingrained survival mechanism.

I have an excellent therapist and good medical support, FWIW.
posted by Mistress to Human Relations (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
In what context are these conversations taking place? In what way are these speakers disrespecting you? The answers I would give would vary considerably depending on the nature of the conversation and the disrespect.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:26 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

There are quite broad and distinct circumstances. Often times it's in a volunteer context where I've got no choice but to interact. In this case people are speaking in a manner that is sour and mean, as if I had no right to bother them with these necessary work coordination requests. (If I get a third party to ask them or use email or whatever they act puzzled that I haven't used the customary communication method, which is speaking to them directly. These are peers.) Recently it happened with a friend - I told her about a bad situation and she started pouring presumptive advice at me without any expression of care or request for permission to offer advice.
posted by Mistress at 7:31 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sorry, I have a few additional questions about some of your other ones though.

When you say "respectfully", are there specific behaviors you mean?
Can you describe the volunteer situation?

The friend situation sounds like you might be able to reframe it as your friend trying to help you and failing -- there are a bunch of threads on these boards (and elsewhere) that demonstrate that some people want support when they have a problem, and other people want advice, AND the same for people interacting with them, so that a mismatch can cause great frustration although no disrespect was intended on either side. But I may be misunderstanding the situation so please take that for what it's worth.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:37 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like I'd need to know more here. It's possible that the people you're dealing with are just jerks! I'm going to talk about how I deal with this in a professional context first, which I think applies to your volunteering situation.

I deal with a lot of town building departments in the course of my work, and a lot of the time the person on the other end of the phone (or other side of the computer screen or counter) is just WILDLY unprofessional and rude to me. I've found that I get the best results by adopting an extremely chipper and cheerful demeanor and leading with a bright, polite greeting like, "Good morning! How are you today!? Lovely/lousy weather we're having, eh?" This establishes that I'm not there to be a jerk to them, shows that I care about how they feel (because everything is all about them), and then tries to forge a common connection that will hopefully get me and my interlocutor on the same side. I also try to make sure that I have my shit together (double-check my notes first, make sure I have my own pen, have answers to their questions ready to go) and am professional and presentable in my appearance. I want them to see me as someone who is friendly and respectful, but also competent and confident. I make a conscious effort to pull myself together and get myself organized before I step out of my van and go up to the doors of the town hall.

I am still frequently met with condescending sneers or even just sullen silence. Some people are just miserable and awful and there's nothing you can do but just power through the interaction and get out of there with intact dignity and hopefully also a building permit (or whatever your goal is). That's the other part of my advice here: focus less on how you're being treated and more on accomplishing whatever your goal is. Show up to the phone call with a specific aim in mind and drive toward that aim. If someone is rude to you assume it's because they're a miserable petty jerk who hates their life, and not because of anything to do with you. You're not there to fix their life for them, you're just there to get, e.g., a building permit. Get what you need and get out.

In the friendship context I'd probably just let her know that you were just looking to vent and get support, not for advice. Giving advice is how a lot of people try to help their friends with their problems. It's my own first impulse—if a friend is telling me about a problem, I assume it's because they want a solution! This is not always true and I try to be better about this now, but it's how many people operate. Your friend was probably just trying to give you the help they thought they were asking for, and didn't realize that all you wanted was a shoulder to cry on. I'd say something like, "Hey friend, thanks for the advice but I really just need to vent here. I'm not at the point where I can even think about dealing with this." And then maybe I'd make a mental note for next time that this is an advice-giving friend, not a shoulder-offering friend. Advice-giving friends are useful too, if they have a track record of giving decent advice. It's not rude, it's just a different way of expressing friendship.

tl;dr: Some people are just rude, and some friends will respond to hearing of your problems by trying to help you solve them. Don't take it personally.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:46 AM on November 23, 2018 [11 favorites]

Is it possibly you're misunderstanding/misinterpreting? You given an example of your friend offering advice after you told her about a bad situation - that's pretty normal, out of context and without hearing specifically what was said and tone and stuff, its hard to call that disrespectful. I understand that you maybe just wanted to vent about your bad situation and have your feelings validated - and that would also have been a normal response but offering advise/solutions is not disrespectful, its just a different style.
Its possible that what you're interpreting as mean/sour is something else - maybe they're busy and your timing is bad.
posted by missmagenta at 7:56 AM on November 23, 2018

Thank you all for your answers, and questions :)

I'm struggling to figure out how I could say more without breaching confidences and making myself unsafe.

The tips in Anticipation..'s reply are definitely in line for what I'm looking for. I'm also looking for ways of conveying... Gravitas? Humanity? Occupying my space / energy more fully? I don't know what to call it.

Regarding the friend, I think if I had pushed back on their advice even in the gentlest or meekest way, they would have snarled or hung up. Disrespect just comes off them in waves. Perhaps they're not a friend..

I wonder whether some of this is indeed subconscious or unspoken discrimination against me for being autistic, because I do have some characteristic autistic traits in my body language, voice and presentation. I have found myself getting annoyed at this in others and while I have worked hard on being really mindful about that, it also makes me wonder what I can do to minimise or mitigate anything in myself that could be similarly annoying to people I interact with. (I'm a strong believer in rights and respect for autistic folks, and I don't think anyone should be forced to mask their autism, but I also want, in some situations, to get every advantage I can give myself.)

I'm nervous of angering the mods by responding too much, and I'm sorry if I have!
posted by Mistress at 8:10 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I echo most of Anticipation's tips. I work in healthcare so I deal with a lot of people -- both patients and staff -- who tend to be a bit surly, short, or occasionally downright rude. I would say my top two tips are:

1. Do everything I can to make them feel comfortable and respected in the interaction. Sometimes this means really putting myself in the subservient role in the conversation in a way that feels kind of instinctively bad when you're already feeling mistreated, but I think it's powerful. What I mean by this is even when I am requesting something that is very reasonable and totally within the job description of the person I need it from, I might say something like, "Excuse me, good afternoon. I am so sorry to bother you. Would it be possible for you to help me out with X?" Followed by lots and lots of "Thank you so much," "This is extremely helpful," or (if met with pushback) "I see, that makes sense. Do you think it would be possible to X instead?" Again, the resistance I meet usually does not make sense, but I put myself in the role of being totally on board with what this person is telling me, and once they see us aligned (and perceive that I am asking them humbly for help), they are usually more inclined to help.

2. Gaslight yourself. I don't know a better way to say it, but I try to assume the best of people and bend backwards over myself thinking of reasons why someone was rude to me besides "they're an intrinsically rude person" or (worse) "there's something bad about me that made them rude to me." I'd much prefer to think, "That person is having a really bad day" or "Maybe I'm the 100th person today to ask them that seemingly simple question and that's why they really flew off the handle." I don't endorse this technique for personal relationships where it's frankly a recipe for emotional disaster, but in a professional setting where the interactions are brief and the relationships ephemeral, it is so much easier to let an unpleasant conversation roll off my back if I presume the benefit of the doubt.
posted by telegraph at 8:24 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmmm. Maybe with the friend, if you'd asked that she be there simply to hold space for you, the outcome might have been different? Part of this is on friend, though: it would have been good if she'd asked you that question.

If the same situation comes up, try saying, "hey, what I need right now is for someone to listen." (I'm like you: a lot of times it doesn't even occur to me to make that kind of request.) If she goes right over that and keeps giving advice, well, then I would find a friend who's a better communicator. Good listeners are very hard to find.

With the volunteer gig, yeah, sounds like you are simply dealing with the kind of sourpuss who is polite to people only when there might be consequences to them if they aren't. You'll be better off not to take this as any reflection on you or your communication style.

If you're in the United States: we live in an angry, bullying culture, more so every day, where people who say "this is how it's going to be" get results. A lot of us, especially non-rich, non-white, neuroatypical not-men, have to reckon with disrespect on a daily basis. I don't say this to minimize the pain you feel when these things happen, but be very aware that you have a lot of good company. It's not you: it's them.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:26 AM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

One behavior I have noted executive types using (male executive types, however, so YMMV) is creating uncomfortable silences as an instrumental way of establishing social dominance. They use various cues to create an expectation that the other person should be speaking, then simply refrain from speaking themselves while holding a neutral expression. There's probably a Sun Tzu quote somewhere about waiting for your opponent to trip up via judicious use of patience.

This FPP thread from earlier in the year about cultural aspects and the mechanics of people interrupting each other during conversations may be of interest.
posted by XMLicious at 8:34 AM on November 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

I describe Anticipation...'s comment as "aggressive cheerfulness" and it is reasonably effective, especially in situations where I am in the subordinate role like retail. In this case you are not in a subordinate role.

*This is not criticism.* You are female and were raised to be helpful, accommodating and solve other peoples' problems. In this thread you're trying hard to make sure you were clear and to try to supply details that you said you couldn't supply. If you try to accommodate people they will let you. If you are helpful, they will make you do all the work. Let people solve their own problems much of the time.

As XMLicious suggests, use silence. When someone is rude, give it a couple moments to sink in. Literally stay silent until they ask if you're still there. Reply in a reserved manner.

If it's someone you have to speak to frequently, be reserved, calm and extremely civil. If they keep being rude, tell them you'll call back when it's a better time for them. They'll ask what you mean. Tell them they seem to be having a difficult day wish them well, and get off the phone. Call back later.

Over time, I think you need to dramatically reduce your tendency to be accommodating, while being polite. Being a bit more aggressive will be more effective. Listen to how effective men speak. Move in that direction. Own whatever power you have.
posted by theora55 at 10:31 AM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Going to Al-Anon has helped me understand three things:
1. I cannot control the behaviour of other people.
2. Most things people say to me actually have very little to do with me personally.
3. Unacceptable behaviour is unacceptable, which means I can set a boundary when I experience it.

As a result, I am a lot calmer when I bump into rude people than I used to be. Any given individual who is being difficult is mostly likely being difficult because they are having a terrible day, just got bad news, are ill, who knows? Unless they tell me directly, I have no idea.

If someone acts in a way that feels too yucky, I can set a boundary and I have been getting better at that with practice. I have a friend who used to always try to fix things for me that I was not looking for advice about. I just wanted this friend to listen to what I had to say and agree that X situation was sucky for me. Over time my friend has developed the ability to give me what I need because I tell them, before I share, what I need and give them the opportunity to say they are unavailable to do that, if they are, so neither of us needs to be frustrated.

My kid used to yell at me when she was younger. Sometimes I yelled back. Then I learned to tell her that unless she stopped yelling, I was going to leave. If she kept yelling, I left.

Obviously your response to peers is going to be different than my response to my yelling kid. But you do have the option, for example, of interrupting someone and saying you need to get some water and then disappearing for a bit or trying out a variety of other options if you are feeling abused or misunderstood.

Life is hard; no one is a mindreader. I wish people had been kinder to you. We could all use more kindness these days. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:44 AM on November 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

creating uncomfortable silences as an instrumental way of establishing social dominance.

This very thing happened to me just a few days ago with a medical professional. He was condescending and arrogant, and as I analysed the encounter later, I remembered that after saying hi, he just stood there looking at me and I, trying to fill the awkward silence, startled prattling. I had already ceded ground and it went downhill from there! I resolved to try and be more actively dominant myself and see how these interactions change (fwiw, always with men, always older).

I don't know if something like this applies to you, and if/how much your autism plays a role (cuz don't worry, being a woman is often enough).

But also, sometimes people are just assholes or may have had a horrible day.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:22 AM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Recently it happened with a friend - I told her about a bad situation and she started pouring presumptive advice at me without any expression of care or request for permission to offer advice.

listening and offering advice is an expression of care from anybody except a professional you're paying for a consultation. you don't have to accept it or pretend to like it, and you're free to pre-empt it by requesting that someone listen to you and offer sympathy only, that's not impolite to ask for. you don't have to accept any expression of care that offends you or intrudes on you. all gestures of affection are offensive in some cases and must be withheld on request; advice too. but it is one of them.

maybe you do ask permission first before 'pouring out' bad situations on friends, but not everyone does. some people find it rude to just start in about bad personal situations without asking first to see if the other person is receptive to it. but it isn't disrespectful, any more than advice is, unless you've been asked not to do it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:39 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you would really like "executive presence" video tutorials on YouTube. And if you have money to throw at this, you can try executive/media coaching where a trained professional will observe your speaking presentation and point out any personal quirks that you are not aware of that may affect how you come across. I've seen other people do them and it was really effective and really fun.
posted by rada at 12:12 PM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

A good starting place is: "Did you mean for that to sound as rude as it did?"

The vast majority of time, the answer is no, they will apologize, and try again. Some people will say no but not understand why it was rude and you can discuss it, ideally with I-statements ("I feel $emotion when you say $rudeness, I need you to do $alternative instead.") Sometimes the answer is yes, and they'll give you the reason. The way you proceed from there depends on the situation.

If the answer is "yes" and it's a personal/friend relationship, that is friendship-ending behavior and you have a discussion about that. Get new friends if your friends treat you like that.

If the answer is "yes" and it's a customer service or work situation, and the person is not your boss, you immediately escalate to a manager or corporate. If there is no manager or corporate, you leave immediately and leave a bad Yelp review. If the person is your boss, you escalate to HR. If there is no HR or escalating doesn't work, do what you have to do to get through it until you can get a new job.
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:10 PM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

When I face issues like this, I've found over time that I need to address it directly or it won't change. Letting it roll off my back is doing emotional labor for someone who shouldn't be asking that of me. Plus if this is in the context of an organization, volunteer or otherwise, that kind of behavior is a probably a tax on everyone, not just you. If you are in a high status position, consider thinking of how great it would be for everyone if this stopped and if there are ways in the moment to draw attention to the behavior directly. Thinking about how it would be better for everyone if this wasn't happening helps me do the socially hard thing of saying "I'm surprised you're acting like you don't want to do this -- I thought we agreed X and I think I'm just making it easier for you to do X by communicating my expectations about it here." Always focusing on the behavior and not on the person themselves.

The other tack I've used is to turn it into a conversation about values if there's a pattern of behavior. "This is the n-th time we've had this kind of interaction and it seems harder than it should be. Do you think we're not on the same page about what should be done or how it should be done?" If they're a "I want maximum autonomy" type person and you're a "I want maximum quality" type person, that's always going to be a high friction interaction until there is either compromise or status-based resolution about whose values win.
posted by heresiarch at 3:39 PM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Im on the receiving end of some pretty ludicrous and angry phone calls at work. My most used tool is silence. Don’t underestimate the power of silence. If someone is spewing vitriole at you, keep silent and stay silent until they run out of breath. They will inevitably say “are you still there?” and you will respond, “yes, I’m here. As I was saying...” and repeat what you said before they went off. Sometimes this pisses them off even more but usually they will realize that letting out their anger isn’t going to be any fun because you aren’t responding.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:37 PM on November 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Did you mean for that to sound as rude as it did?

That is diabolical, I will keep that one in my back pocket for sure.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:52 PM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would echo the second half of telegram's answer except I don't think of it as gaslighting myself—I think of it as practicing empathy and the golden rule. A lot of people are miserable and unhappy due to circumstances in their life that are not wholly within their control. When I meet a rude person in a public context—so at work, but also e.g. in the checkout line or on the street—I assume that they're just really deeply unhappy for Reasons.

Maybe they're in chronic pain, maybe they are in an abusive relationship, maybe their dog died, who the heck knows? Maybe they feel trapped in a toxic, dysfunctional work environment. Lots of people have good reason to be unhappy, and unhappy people behave badly. I have had bad days in my life and been that unhappy, rude person to other people before; I'm not proud of it, but I also don't think I'm alone there either, right?

So when someone takes out their inner unhappiness on me by being petty and rude, I do try to put myself in their imagined shoes and cut them some slack. Sermon on the Mount, you know? Love your enemies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I'm nobody's idea of a Christian but there's powerful stuff in there. Making a point of being nice to people who don't deserve it is a small way of enacting those worthy ideals.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:27 PM on November 23, 2018

I talk on the phone at work all day long and am frequently spoken to in a rude or insulting manner. (As Angela Basset said in the most recent Mission: Impossible movie, "It's part of the job.") I have all kinds of methods for dealing with it, depending on the situation. If the person is yelling and being abusive, I will tell them that I can't continue to speak with them if they are going to yell and they can call me back when they feel calmer, but it rarely comes to that. One thing that works well especially with older men is my "shocked librarian voice." Someone says something really rude, and I pause and say, "ExCUSE me?" in a shocked, slightly hurt tone. They will picture me clutching my pearls. It is an affection, but it WORKS. Almost always they will calm the hell down or apologize or both. The tone is not angry or annoyed. You are shocked at anyone would speak to you in such a way.
posted by Aquifer at 11:04 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

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