Feeling disrespected is the predominant cause of conflict between people. Failing to resolve that conflict is often the reason teams fail. Respecting others is probably something you agree is important and something you strive to do regularly. I’m sure most people feel that way. Yet we fail constantly.

Most of the time, when we come across as disrespectful, we don’t even realize it. Every individual has a certain level of sensitivity, certain areas that push their buttons just right. Unfortunately, knowing what each person’s sensitivity level is and what pushes their buttons in just the right way, is impossible to guess.

If you’re thinking, “Exactly!!!!!” right now and thinking, “So it’s not my fault they’re sensitive,” then…that’s not the right attitude. We can’t guess where someone’s sensitivity level is, but we can learn and strive to be respectful in the meantime. It is not completely up to you, true. It takes two people working together.


When someone reacts defensively or in a frustrated way due to something we said or did, we most likely just hit one of their buttons and they felt disrespected. We might not think we said anything wrong or behaved disrespectfully, but that isn’t how the other person perceived it.

Disrespect is often felt due to a perceived attack on identity and individuality. I say “perceived” because it is not always intentional. However, even if it’s not intentional, that doesn’t discount the felt attack.

Example: You’ve been working tirelessly on a presentation and ask another team member for feedback. Let’s call her Samantha. Samantha’s response is something along the lines of, “I don’t think this part is good and I would change this, this, and this.”

All of sudden, you feel frustrated. You experienced an attack on your identity and individuality! You poured your heart and soul into that presentation, put it together based on who you are, and made it your own. Yet your team member had nothing positive to say.

Samantha gave you honest feedback based on who she is (which was not wrong). But, communicated without understanding the effort you put into it and without connecting who you are with the work you presented.

You can look at one hundred different examples of engagement between two people where one is left feeling disrespected and they would all have the same outcome: a perceived attack on identity and individuality. When we put a piece of ourselves into our work, it can hurt when that work isn’t valued. When we identify with being a certain person, it can hurt when part of that identity is not being valued. All of that is associated with disrespect.

We will continue this discussion next month.

Update: Click here for Part II