It’s how you say it

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Talking down to friends, family, and teammates can only weaken the links

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2015

The act of belittling another verbally, whether it’s in a work environment or in a social setting, is so offensive that often I regret not responding physically. True, we might have messed up, dropped a ball here or there, but regardless of the situation, neither you nor I should be talked down to. However, we must also be cautious to not ridicule and belittle others.

We’ve all had to work with someone who didn’t have the same level of skill in a particular task as we did. When I say work, I also include other team activities such as sports. Life is all about teamwork, and the old adage rings true: “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” While you may think that calling out another’s shortcomings or ridiculing them publically in front of their peers is an effective way of motivating them to improve, it is not!

What you must understand is that not everyone shares the same level of interest or passion as you in any given project. Believe me, if you shame someone enough times, especially in a team environment where trust and loyalty is paramount, you’ve lost them. They’ll find new friends, get another job, and avoid you completely. Nothing you do is special enough to mistreat others over. People will get fed up, angry, and often retaliate. This can be incredibly destructive.

If you think that others should pick up the slack, you should really look in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you the top performer? Are you the best on your team? Are you literally better than everyone else you work with? If you are, what the hell are you doing with these losers? Go pick on someone your own size. If not, then shut up! This looking down on people is the same vain and arrogant way of thinking that makes you ugly, regardless of how you look.

There is only so far you can push other people before they push back. If you don’t establish camaraderie first, then there is no balance between the team. There is a reason why in every creative writing class students are encouraged to note something good before mentioning something bad. It’s not because we are sensitive and we need things sugarcoated. It’s because we are human and we have feelings. We are all equals in the grand scheme of things.

We all know how it feels to be talked down to. You may have been on the receiving end of a situation I described above, with a team member or friend telling you you weren’t good enough. As a younger adult, like many college students are, I often feel that the older generation—those with full-time jobs, children, and a retirement plan—cannot help but lecture me. I’m not talking about helpful advice; I’m talking about critical, judgmental assessment of my values, pursuits, and character. Some of them speak as if I’m entitled, inconsiderate, disrespectful, ungrateful, or unmotivated. Ultimately, a conversation with these older people becomes a vicious assault of guilt and shame.

Life is too short to spend your time being put down by an employer, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, or teammate. Life is too short to be spent with people who don’t appreciate you for your efforts. If you find yourself in defence mode all the time, get out of the situation now. The best way to retaliate to those talking down to you is to leave, completely.

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