The Best Way To Respond When You Feel Disrespected At Work

Maintain your professionalism and personal well-being with these actionable steps.

Last updated on Feb 22, 2024

Woman at work feeling disrespected, states of shock Christina @ | Unsplash 

Disrespect in the workplace manifests in various forms, from gossiping and public shaming to more subtle biases that chip away at your sense of worth. Unfortunately, a Pew Research Center survey highlights that 57% of employees who quit their jobs cited disrespect as the main culprit.

You can transform this challenge into an opportunity for growth. It's about navigating this terrain with your head held high and finding ways to foster a respectful environment for yourself and others.

So, how do you respond to disrespect while aiming to keep your job and sanity intact? Navigating these turbulent waters requires a thoughtful and strategic approach to address the issue at hand and protect yourself. Here are strategies to help you respond to disrespect while keeping your job.


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10 action-oriented steps to help when you're being disrespected at work 

1. Stay calm and composed

Your initial reaction to disrespectful behavior can set the tone for the encounter. Taking a moment to pause and breathe can prevent the situation from escalating. Remember, keeping your composure doesn't imply acceptance; it’s about maintaining control over your response.

At the moment, try focusing on feeling all your toes on the floor or rubbing your fingertips together and noticing the ridges. This will help you calm yourself and remain in the present, which will help control your emotions.


peace in the face of problems

Photo via Getty

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2. Seek understanding

Often, disrespectful behavior stems from misunderstandings or miscommunications. Dare to delve deeper to find the reason behind their disrespect. It's possible that addressing an underlying issue can transform a negative interaction into a constructive dialogue. When you are calmer, approach the person with curiosity, “In our conversation the other day, it felt very personal to me when you said XYZ. I’m wondering what brought that up for you?” Remain curious, which can help you remain objective.


3. Set boundaries firmly but politely

It's essential to communicate your boundaries to those who cross the line. Express your feelings using "I" statements, such as "I feel disrespected when you speak to me in that tone."

This manner of communication refrains from placing blame and focuses on how their behavior affects you. If you struggle with people-pleasing tendencies or have difficulty with conflict, imagine yourself advocating for someone you care about and practice saying your statements out loud. This will give you more confidence that you can express yourself when you need to do so.



4. Find allies and advocacy

You can seek support from colleagues who you trust. Have they experienced this situation? How did they set boundaries? You can find out the history behind the culture or behavior of certain coworkers. There could be something you know nothing about, which is influencing others to act disrespectfully.


You can also ask for their objective opinion of the situation. Can they see something you may not have seen about your behavior? Knowing how you are perceived can provide helpful information as you navigate the situation.

5. Put everything on the record

Keep a detailed record of disrespectful incidents, including dates, times, and witnesses. This information could become crucial if the situation necessitates involvement from Human Resources or evolves into a pattern requiring formal action. This will also give you helpful information about patterns. Is one person an instigator? Is it a group? When you know the situations where disrespectful behavior occurs, you can take action to protect yourself, such as having others around or meeting in open spaces.



6. Develop and implement self-care practices

As you navigate the stormy seas of feeling disrespected at work, remember that self-care isn't a luxury—it's a necessity. Taking care of your mental and physical well-being isn't just about coping. It's about thriving in an environment that may sometimes be less than ideal. Here are actionable ways you can establish self-care practices to safeguard your well-being and continue to excel in your career:


7. Establish healthy disconnects

In today's always-on work culture, you must carve out time to disconnect and recharge. Practice email-free weekends or scheduled focus hours during the workday when you can work interruptions-free.

This separation can help prevent burnout and maintain a healthy work-life balance. If having a weekend free of email feels too impossible, time block when you will check in and respond. A focused 30 minutes over a weekend will be more productive than checking in on your email throughout the day.

happy couple out for a fun drive in car

Photo: shift drive via Shutterstock


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8. Create a support system

It can be easy to feel isolated when disrespected in the workplace. Actively work on building relationships with empathetic coworkers who understand your situation. Whether it's a lunchtime walk or a brief coffee break, these moments away from your desk with supportive colleagues can offer a much-needed change in perspective.



9. Mind your physical and emotional health

The link between workplace stress and physical and emotional health is well-established. Combat the negative effects by adopting routines that support your physical wellness. It can be very comforting when we are down to focus inward and disconnect from our routine. However, studies have shown physical activity can bring a sense of accomplishment and release powerful hormones into our system, which make us feel better. 


Make mental health the same priority as physical health. Simple, easily adoptable practices include mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, or short walks to clear your head. Stay vigilant to changes in attitudes and performance—your own or your colleagues—and have open conversations about emotional support.

10. Watch the transformation take place

By implementing these strategies, you're addressing the disrespect head-on and creating a sustainable work environment for yourself. Moreover, by maintaining a positive outlook and practicing emotional and physical self-care, you reinforce to others that you respect yourself regardless of their behavior towards you. Embody these practices and watch how they transform your experience and outlook, making you more resilient for whatever life puts in your path.

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Amy Bracht is a coach and consultant with a knack for transforming high-level concepts into practical solutions. She crafts innovative strategies designed to guide individuals toward their full potential.