Do you know when to back off?

-There are two sides to the respect coin. One is to pay attention to people, to hear them out. Another is to back off rather than browbeat someone who doesn’t agree with you. –

I’ve talked before about the ethical obligation to treat others with respect by attentive listening. Today, I want to talk about the flip side of respect: the duty to back off and accept the fact that while others should listen to us, we can’t demand that they agree with us.

Such unreasonable demands are especially prevalent when someone in authority (boss or parent) lectures, criticizes, sermonizes, or berates an employee or child well past the point of legitimate communication. But it isn’t just people of authority who seek to impose their ideas through bulldozer tactics.

The common thread in disrespectful communication is going beyond reasonable attempts to inform or persuade. At that point it becomes a harangue. It’s as if the speaker’s trying to beat us into submission rather than simply conveying a point of view, pummeling us with repetitive opinions, complaints, or demands. And if we don’t give the desired response, the speaker restates the point louder or more aggressively.

Telling browbeaters that we understand their position and will consider what they said rarely stops the onslaught because the only way they’ll believe we understand their point is if we agree with it. They can become so self-righteous that they think disagreeing with them is proof of confusion, ignorance, stupidity, or a closed mind.

No one has the right to impose his or her opinions on others or to demand to be listened to until he or she is done. The moral obligation of respect requires that we learn when to back off and that we learn when to listen.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 9

  1. We often read articles like this one and immediately think of someone that we know who fits perfectly into this model. I am remiinded of someone that can have that quality far too often … ME !!! I admit it. Don’t we all have the tendency to want to respond in this manner? My point is, when we read these articles, we can benefit the most when we read and look in the mirror rather than look for a friend, coworker, or acquaintence with this character flaw. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Post
  2. Michael,
    When you launched your newsletter (at least when *I* became aware of it, anyway), I stopped listening to the audio clips (as much as I enjoyed them when they were on KNX). Tonight on a whim I clicked on this one and was just a little taken aback to hear how different it was from the printed version. I guess you could call it “artistic license” but it just felt odd somehow, especially coming from such a stickler for propriety, both actual and perceived. No big deal, but I noticed.

    Thanks for your great commentaries!


  3. Hi Mr. Josephson, Can you elaborate more on how to respectfully back off? When I have had enough I politely excuse myself but as you say browbeaters get more indignent and the problem can excalate further. Any ideas to conclude the conversation without making the person feel that you are not listening anymore?

  4. I agree with Noah that most often we are usually the offenders…I know I can be when it comes to those things I am very passionate about. I am also a rule follower and dislike it very much so when people do not follow the rules/guidelines set forth for organizations. I want to be in their faces, but I am learning to just shut the mouth and walk away. I have had to let go of my feelings of what will happen. Cannot convince a person against their will on anything.

    1. Someone … I sure understand how you feel. I have learned that we all have control issues. We’re all controllers in one way or another. Wow! We seem to have rules for our life (and we often rationalize it when we break our own rules) and we want to impose our rules of life onto others. How dare us! We hate it when others do the things that we do, too, even if it is only once in a while. I have decided that it is a big enough job to control my own life, let alone everyone elses. Think about this … when we want the most to control the behavior or attitude of someone else, it is because we have become out of control. It all boils down to attitudinal healing … MINE!

  5. I agree with you to some extent, but I feel we sometimes have to convince others to see things from a different perspective if we know for a fact they are on a path of self destruction. I mentor and work with high risk youth who have their own ideas on life and have all the answers but still manage to keep making major mistakes. While my upbringing was significantly different than most youth I work with, I think it is important to stress such things as excelling in school, avoiding drugs, respecting the law and having some sort of work ethic. Many youth don’t value these things, which often leads them down a path of self destruction and or into the penal system. I agree and believe in the different stages of change, but I go hard trying to help youth open their eyes to the traps set up in their communities through the media, easy access to drugs and more than often, failing school systems. I am very much in control of my behavior and attitude and only pour so much into youth because I know how critical the teen years are for positioning oneself for some reasonable measure of success in their adult years. Dr. M.L. King said, “The moment we become silent about things that matter, is the moment or souls begin to die”. I refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch more and more of our youth fill up the jails and cemeteries. As for adults however, I back off real quick when they resist making changes that will improve their lot in life.

  6. We only know what we know. Any person that believes that there is one absolute truth without recognizing that others have different experiences and different information to hold a counter position is the most difficult type of person to have a conversation. If a person believes something to be true because of the information they have and as a result of their experiences then what they know is the truth – for them. If the person is unwilling to accept the fact that someone else might have different information and different experiences which cause them to believe otherwise then a meaningful conversation will not happen. Usually this type of person lacks self confidence and needs reinforcement that their position or belief is correct. To respect that person the proper response to them is to say something like “I can understand why you feel that way” or “I understand your position” or “I don’t know if I agree with that but I certainly understand why you believe that. It sounds very reasonable to me” or “I respect what you are saying. I just can’t agree with that right now [today].” The last thing you want to do is argue or force your opinion on that person. Their ego is probably so fragile that the best way to respect them is to give them understanding.

    1. Tom you are so correct! And well worded. It’s so much better be happy than right. I just want to be right for me and let the other person be right for them. I also want to consider he other persons viewpoint. When I tend to want to argue, I remind myself of a lesson in A Course In Miracles that says, “You could choose peace instead of this.”

Leave a Reply to Michael Josephson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *