Insults at work come in all forms: co-workers belittling your efforts or superiors putting down your opinions or ideas. Yet, the process of dealing with insults from co-workers or superiors doesn’t merit a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it’s important to step back, evaluate the specific situation and go from there. For best results, delay the snarky comeback that might be on the tip of your tongue or the rash action that springs into your mind. If you do, you’ll have a better chance of effectively dealing with insults at work and, hopefully, preventing them in the future.
Take a Breather
Stop and remove yourself from the situation before you do anything. Do not allow yourself to react without thinking through the other person’s actions. If you do, you might say or do something in haste that you will regret later. For example, if a co-worker insults you, say something such as, “I need some time to think about what you said before I can reply. Excuse me.”
Consider the Nature of the Insult
In the case of a mild one-time or occasional insult, ignoring it is the best course of action. Ignoring can help you avoid making a small issue escalate to a significant conflict. However, if someone openly insults you — in private or in front of others — and causes you distress and humiliation, you eventually need to deal with it so the person knows his behavior is unacceptable. Serious insults, such as those accompanied by sexual harassment, should be handled through the workplace chain of command.
Tell a trusted colleague or friend about the insult and the circumstances surrounding it, if you think your judgment may be skewed. Ask your confidant if she thinks you are overreacting to the person’s insult. An objective opinion can help you sort out your feelings and make the best decision when dealing with the insult.
Deal With the Person
If the insult is not something you can ignore, but you don’t feel you need to report it to a superior, deal with it yourself. Ask the person who insulted you to meet with you in private. Do not talk to him in front of others to avoid making him feel uncomfortable. Use less confrontational “I” statements instead of “You” statements to explain how you feel about his insult. For example, say, “I felt uncomfortable when you pointed out my mistake on the project in front of everyone the other day. I accept responsibility for my mistake, but we’re supposed to be a team and team members support each other. Please don’t do that again.”
Agree to Disagree
It’s a possibility that the person who insulted you won’t acknowledge that her behavior was unacceptable. If she won’t apologize or verbally agree not to insult you again, let it go. The person now knows that you did not appreciate her remark and that was your goal.