We all know people who like to tease. Perhaps they tease about someone’s clothing, hairstyle, or choice of music. Maybe they toss seemingly harmless insults about a person’s work or the way they organize their desk. Perhaps they insult a person’s home state or country. Often, such digs and insults are said “in good fun”. The problem is that they’re not in good fun and they can undermine relationships and harm teamwork. Usually, the person who says the insults doesn’t believe they’re causing any harm. They certainly don’t intend any harm. For them, it’s simply a way of relating to other people. Perhaps they learned it from a parent, an older sibling, or a mentor. Regardless of where they learned such behavior, it can chip away at the foundation of relationships and cause resentment.
Good Communication Skills and Teamwork
If someone objects to the digs and insults, that person may be accused of being thin-skinned or overly sensitive. The problem is, however, that it is not the insulter’s place to decide if someone is being thin-skinned or overly sensitive. Frankly, this post is not about that at all. This post is about achieving effective communication to facilitate good teamwork in the workplace.
It May be a Power Play
Consider this: Usually, the person saying the micro digs and insults is in a position of power, perhaps as a boss or a longer-tenured employee. You rarely see a subordinate or a junior employee saying micro digs and insults to a supervisor or a longer-tenured employee. This suggests that saying micro digs and insults is a means of exerting power over another individual.
The Workplace is Different from Your Personal Life
If you are a person who says micro digs and insults to other people, don’t do it in the workplace. Perhaps you and your friends tease each other on a personal level and, although I try to avoid such behavior, I realize that some people enjoy trading barbs. Don’t expect others to tell you that the digs and insults bother them. The fact that no one has said anything doesn’t mean they’re not bothered. Instead of teasing people, find ways to lift others up, to support and encourage them, and to reinforce positive behaviors.
How to Deal with Micro Digs and Insults
If you have to deal with someone who enjoys saying micro digs and insults, I think you have two options. The first is to ignore the digs and insults. The problem with ignoring them is that they’ll probably continue which could undermine your relationship with that person and possibly undermine teamwork. The second option, and I think a better one, is to confront the person in a positive manner and ask them to stop. Here’s how I dealt with this situation recently. I have a friend who is very thoughtful, kind, and well-read. I enjoy our conversations and learning his thoughts on a variety of subjects. He had a habit, however, of tossing out micro insults frequently. They were not based on reality. They were just insults which he thought were funny. I thought they were annoying and I wanted him to stop. After a few weeks, I finally said something like this to him: “Josh, your friendship is very important to me. I value our relationship. I love hearing your insights on a variety of subjects and really want to continue learning your thoughts. When you toss out little barbs, however, it has the effect of undermining our relationship, which is so important to me. I need you to stop with the insults.” I convinced him of the importance of the relationship which made it easy for him to hear the needed correction. He stopped saying the micro digs and insults and our friendship is solid.
Meryl Runion, in her book Power Phrases, says it well, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.”
What if it Doesn’t Work?
What would I have done if he wouldn’t have changed his behavior? That would have told me that he didn’t value our relationship as much as I did, so I would have started to spend less time with him and more time with friends who are supportive and uplifting. If it were someone at work who didn’t change their behavior, I might have taken it up with HR or my boss or I might have decided to look for a new job. I just don’t have time for negative influences in my life. Do you?
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