How To Recognise And Respond To Verbal Abuse
Leaders Represent The Establishment
Being in a role that involves responsibility can be difficult. There are some who will prefer to be abusive rather than polite, aggressive rather than productive, and inconsiderate rather than respectful. Leaders have to be able to deal with a barrage of information from all sides and some of this might be abusive. We also have to be aware of how we ourselves communicate with those around us. The pressures of work cannot become a reason to press down on other people. Abusive people can quickly undermine our hard work and put negative connotations into situations where they don’t belong. It’s bad for morale, off-putting for customers, and sends out the wrong message. Being able to identify and deal with abusive behaviour is important and as a leader, you are responsible for the well-being of the team. You are not just watching your own back, but everyone’s back.
What are the main types of verbal abuse?
These can happen in the workplace and at home. Your ability to see these behaviours for what they are will give you an advantage your abuser isn’t counting on. The dynamic of right and wrong is always unbalanced with abusive language. Here are some of the ways it can manifest.
This means using words to describe people that are derogatory. From calling names to demonisation, when we forget that others are equal people no matter who they are then we no longer respect their democratic voice. We no longer value their thoughts and feelings and act in ways that do not consider their point of view.
Once called a deadly sin, anger is now known to be a spark that can set wildfires. Misdirected anger or exaggerated anger can become extremely abusive when prolonged. An angry voice can fire up others who instead of thinking through what they are hearing, immediately empathise with the tone and join the crowd. Anger clouds the mind and is frightening for other people. We have adrenaline surges when people are angry and if we feel threatened, it can have significant consequences.
Sometimes people will tell you that reality is different from how it really is. They can have a clear set of ideas and are unable to see reality or they can be aware of the actual situation but want to manipulate you into doing their will. By refusing to acknowledge certain truths and highlighting evidence that you’re mistaken, either made up or circumstantial, another person can paint a picture that is vastly different from how you see the world. By then refusing to accept your own version, they can make it feel that they are helping you by showing you the ‘real’ version.
Lack Of Identity
The way one person feels is limited to them. Their feelings have no determination on the actions or situation of another. When a person takes away your identity, they are saying your feelings are not valid. They claim to know better, be more enlightened, wiser, and right. The valid experience of other people is then disregarded. This makes this person an autocrat in the lives they inhabit. When their perspective on the world takes predominance over any other, no matter who experiences it, they take away your right to have your own experience of life.
Changing other people’s accounts and descriptions to take away some of their emotional impacts, refusing to accept knowingly traumatic situations, laughing at serious comments, silencing people, refusing to talk about subjects, mocking the nature of someone’s ideas, and all kinds of name-calling is a form of undermining. This can be extremely irritating and hurtful. Knowing when to move on from excessive commentary and refusing to let a person make a point is a balance we have to be able to sense when it is becoming tipped one way or another.
How to deal with all this abuse?
Dealing with abuse is about staying calm. There’s nothing an abuser loves more when their target has an emotional response. They can use this to demonstrate how unbalanced you are and how much more they are in the right. They know that no one saw the swipe at your self-esteem under the table. So most importantly, don’t take the bait.
Firm and considered replies make all the difference. By not being outwardly offended and by stating your point in a way that considers all sides you can deflect most kinds of abuse. Sometimes the words don’t come to us, we can freeze up and go gummy in the throat. Responding is not always possible. So what then?
We are by no means compelled to respond to abuse. Walking away and ignoring it is the best course of action. If this isn’t possible, for example, you have a shouting person in your face and you’re at work, you can call upon a key principle. Hold off until you have peace, seek out a colleague you trust, and begin to make a formal case. Workplaces are designed to protect you from these kinds of behaviour.
If you’re feeling confident and your mind is able to work fluidly despite the abuse, you could begin by pointing out every abusive statement. Ask if that’s what they really mean. You can question a person’s character, by asking them if their employer knows they use this type of attitude. By assuming a position of power and by not becoming a victim you can quickly unbalance abusive people. Often by showing them a mirror they can see themselves in a way they don’t like.
Not being a victim means that you don’t have to persuade them to change. You have to let go of their perceived opinions and work to isolate them from the reality of what is happening. You can show the abuser that they have no power to alter your mood or productivity and their outbursts and attempts at manipulation only make them look bad. By highlighting every abusive action they take they will quickly learn that you’re not a suitable target. If you can then extend this to all members of your team, the abuser will find themselves forced to move on somewhere else.