How many times have you been told to ‘buck up’, or ‘that’s just the way it is’, or ‘get over it’? These are dismissive remarks that can make you feel worse than you did before sharing your discomfort about a situation or fear you were experiencing. One of the guiding principles of etiquette is to put other people’s feelings and comfort ahead of your own. Although their advice may mean not taking whatever is bothering you too seriously, what you hear may not alleviate the discomfort you are feeling. The disconnection comes in not knowing where to take your next step. How do you “just get over it” when what is troubling you is very real and painful? The person making the remark may have the best intentions, but your reality and their advice don’t match up.
When someone is stressed and comes to us for comforting, support, or some advice, the best thing we can do is to listen. Sitting down with a friend, who is feeling alone, confused or in pain and offering them a chance to share their troubles is the mark of a true friend. Such a time often allows them to reach a calm solution. Occasionally, it gives you a chance to offer some advice or more tangible assistance. Listening is the most important thing we can do initially. Putting an arm around their shoulder, literally or figuratively, is also a form of comfort that most people respond to when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
When we listen with the intent to understand what is on the other person’s mind, we gain a new perspective; we can have empathy; and we can be compassionate. Too often, we are so insensitive to the pain or fear a person is suffering and expressing to us that our listening is focused on how we will respond. Frequently, a dismissive remark is the result of such insensitivity. We need to filter our thoughts before they become words. Doing so gives us enough time to establish our role as friend and supporter and to reconsider what we will say.
Because a phrase or untoward remark can disrupt a positive social interaction, I am encouraged to notice a renewed interest in the subject of treating children with respect. This can be observed within a group of childhood friends, where peer groups establish a flexible congenial pecking order, or it can between teachers and students, coaches and athletes, or parents and children. The result of paying attention to our children and working to maintain integrated relationships teaches children how to respect others because they are being respected.
New schools of thinking are evolving that show just how critically important respect is to a child, from infancy into adulthood. In fact, our society is built on respecting one another, following The Golden Rule and applying common sense when we think of it. Now we are beginning to realize that dismissive remarks are incredibly painful and damaging to children as well as adults. It is an opportunity to become more sensitive to children’s feelings and fears, and to move from a disconnected, dismissive attitude to an encouraging and connected one.
Within families, dismissive remarks can be very painful. With enough regularity, they can destroy a person, leaving them with little or no self worth. Civility and polite speech suggest that we should be as aware as possible of how we affect the people around us, not only how they affect us. There is a cooperation here that has evolved over the years and helps us maintain a civil society. Obviously, sometimes it works better than others. Within our homes, we can provide a safe and civil environment. With care and attention, we take this with us to school, to work, and throughout our communities.
In business, when we work to our potential, we are justifiably proud of reaching our goals. Part of civility in the workplace is an atmosphere of encouragement. We have a right to work in a place where fear and bullying are not acceptable. In his new book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye – Move Your Organization Our of the Line of Fire, Andrew Faas focuses on the importance and significance of psychologically safe workplaces, and how a supportive work environment can erode the staggering numbers of stress-related deaths we currently cope with. And, in her new book, The 30% Solution - How Civility at Work Increases Retention, Engagement and Profitability, Lewena Bayer explains exactly how to achieve significant gains from the holistic perspective of incorporating greater civility at work.
We are responsible for what comes out of our mouths. We are the ones who spit out hurtful, dismissive remarks. We can stop saying them. We need to pay closer attention to our thoughts, our speech, and our actions. We should follow the fundamental principles of etiquette – to put the other person ahead of us, and to take the high road whenever possible – and it’s always possible.
We start with ourselves, taking the time to find a quiet place everyday, where we can reflect, understand the need for self-compassion, and for inner healing and rejuvenation. It’s almost springtime. There’s no better time than the present to begin to be kinder and gentler in our words. Perhaps adding a smile to our vocabulary might be our best comment.