Sam Holstein

3 Ways You Are Unknowingly Disrespectful to the People Around You

3 Ways You Are Unknowingly Disrespectful to the People Around You

Interpersonal communication skills aren’t taught as a matter of course in modern cultures. As adults, some of us go to therapy or take courses to learn how to communicate better, but for most people, we absorb subconscious beliefs from our parents (who absorbed subconscious beliefs from their parents) and we mindlessly operate on those subconscious beliefs from there on out.

The ultimate result of this cultural attitude is that disrespect is rampant. We don’t know what disrespect looks like and we can’t effectively identify it, but we suffer the effects nonetheless — sadness after close interactions with people, frustration at work or in team environments, and a nagging sense that life shouldn’t be this hard.

One of the reasons life is this hard is that you unconsciously disrespect others around you and they disrespect you in turn. Neither of you are aware of this, but you’re damaged all the same.

Here are some common ways you unknowingly disrespect the people around you.

#1: You Interrupt People

If you come from a family that emphasized politeness, it is not news to you that chronic interruption erodes respect and intimacy in relationships. But many people come from families where interruption is chronic, and these people often don’t realize how often they interrupt people — and even if they do, they still may not realize how degrading it is.

I come from a family of interrupters. It was years before I realized I was a chronic interrupter myself. It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve come to terms with how my chronic interruption makes my loved ones feel. It makes them feel unloved, unvalued, disrespected, and — when the subject is important — even degraded and dehumanized. All that from my simple failure to learn how to patiently wait before speaking.

On one level, my chronic interrupting is a habit. It is taking time for me to learn how not to interrupt because, after 26 years, the bad habit is very ingrained.

But I also notice my mind produces a litany of justifications to support my bad habit. Here are some justifications I use:

It’s not as if I actively thought “This bores me, I will interrupt them now.” For most of my life, I never noticed these justifications at the conscious level. Only after mindfulness training was I able to spot these justifications as they pass through my mind.

Many chronic interrupters do not realize they are chronic interrupters. They are so accustomed to that way of communicating that they simply don’t notice.

Signs you are a chronic interrupter:

  1. Other people interrupt you a lot. They can’t get a word in otherwise!
  2. Your family of origin is a crowd of interrupters and it drives you crazy.
  3. Someone close to you, like a best friend or partner, tells you that you interrupt a lot.

If you suspect or know you have a chronic interruption problem, you probably have justifications like mine bouncing around in your brain. Mindfulness training and journaling can help you access and disarm your justifications.

#2: You Raise Your Voice or Yell at People

Raising one’s voice or yelling at people is an extremely normal thing to do. Sure, if someone is screaming bloody murder at the top of their lungs, we will call them verbally abusive, but raised voices and occasional yelling are considered part of the normal contours of life for many people. But raising your voice and yelling is not a healthy thing to do.

We humans are not chemical reactions. We have free will. We make choices about how we act. And all yelling and all raised voices are all disrespectful and degrading.

I also come from a family of yellers. Some members of my family yell when they are frustrated and pent up. Others yell as a way of “managing” the emotions of the frustrated yellers. One particularly dangerous message I received growing up was ‘when someone is yelling, the right thing to do is yell louder than them to get their attention.’ Yikes.

Most people don’t grow up in a family like this, but they do receive implicit cultural messaging that sometimes yelling is OK. If your girlfriend is nagging you for days or weeks on end, it’s only natural to reach the end of your rope and yell at her. Right?

Wrong. It does not matter how angry you are. It does not matter what the other person has done. It even does not matter if they started yelling at you first. In every moment of every day, we have choices about how we act, and yelling is always a disrespectful and uncompassionate choice.

The way I inspire myself not to yell is to imagine the President of the United States (usually JFK or Silent Cal). The President faces international crises every day in office. His decisions affect millions of lives. Does a good President handle these crises by yelling? Of course not. Even in negotiations with abhorrent terrorists, a good President keeps his calm and deals with the situation effectively.

If JFK could keep calm during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I can keep calm too.

#3: You Issue Judgements About People

One exceedingly common disrespectful behavior in developed nations is the act of issuing sweeping judgments about people without even sparing a moment to consider what it’s like to be them.

Here are some judgments I regularly hear people around me make about others.

Here is a fact about the world: Everyone in the world has valid reasons for feeling and acting the way they do.

And yes, I do mean anyone. I used to read sentences like that and think “Well of course I can empathize with someone for yelling and interrupting, but what about abuse? What about theft? What about assault?!” But often, validating and empathizing with people who do bad things is precisely what they need to open the doorway to improving their behavior.

There’s a big difference between validating someone’s feelings and condoning their actions. I’m a firm believer in never making excuses for people’s actions because as we discussed, we always have a choice in how we act.

When you issue judgments about people, you are doing two very dangerous things:

  1. You are setting up an excuse for your own bad behavior. After all, when the world is full of shitty people doing shitty things, how can you be expected to be the bigger person?
  2. You are making it more likely other people will behave poorly toward you in the future. Who are you more likely to be kind to: someone who recognizes your essential humanity, or someone who writes you off?

These two dangerous things set up a vicious cycle. As people are more likely to treat you poorly, you are more likely to issue judgments, you are more likely to do shitty things, people are more likely to treat you poorly going forward… you get the picture.

Instead, learn to validate and empathize with people. When you see someone acting in a shitty way, ask yourself “What could be going on in their life to lead them to this behavior?”

Again, this doesn’t mean condoning wrong action. Being late for work is not an excuse for endangering people on the road and it’s still wrong for your mother to try to control you.

But when you validate, you acknowledge someone’s humanity — and when you acknowledge their humanity, you’re more likely to treat them well, and they are more likely to treat you well in return.

People who see the best in others get the best from others.

In Conclusion

Don’t expect yourself to read this list and instantly see these behaviors disappear from yourself overnight. We have choices about how we act, but most of our actions are the result of bad habits. It takes time to change habits. No matter how dedicated you are, no matter how much you care, no matter how desperately you want things to change, the simple fact of the matter is it takes time to change your habits.

Even worse, most of these bad habits come backed up by subconscious justifications we’ve been using for decades. We won’t be able to quash our bad habits without first standing up to each and every justification and saying “I won’t accept this excuse from myself anymore.”

It takes courage to let go of justifications and face the real world. If it were easy, if we could do it all at once, we would have done it years ago.