Leaders Address Belittling During Conflict

“You would say that – you have no idea what this industry is like!”

“You always talk without thinking.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Belittling can be direct, like calling someone an idiot, or it can be slightly more subtle. Either way, when our back is against the wall in a conflict situation, and things turn unhealthy, making others look small is a tactic that can rear its ugly head.

In our search for truth, healthy debate around issues works – but we’re not all on equal starting lines. You might have really good data, or insight, or experience, which gives you an advantage in your search for truth. From that point of view, it may be fair to think your opinion ought to be considered over the opinion of someone who doesn’t have any of those advantages.

This is where the belittling trap comes in. When someone less informed speaks up and is taken just as seriously as you are, beware the temptation to ignore their thoughts just because they don’t know as much as you on the subject.

If you verbalize that difference, it can come across as belittling. And if you use a one or two word blanket description for someone, it can sting – and it can stick.



“Wet behind the ears”


These labels unfairly ignore all the positive qualities of that person, and send the message you think they don’t belong in the room. Belittling can hurt trust in the long run, and undermine your credibility.

What to do?

The next time you’re tempted to disqualify someone with a succinct label – stop.

Use your superior knowledge to lay out a fact-based case against their idea.

If you can’t do so, then maybe that’s why you fell for the belittling trap before.

This is the 2nd post in an 18-part series discussing what not to do during conflict situations. Effective leaders avoid portraying these 18 behaviors during conflict and address them in others. Follow along as we explore the negative impact of these behaviors, and what to do instead.

Post 1: Leaders Address Arguing During Conflict

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