I didn't really understand what she meant.
"Dismissive of you right now or dismissive in general?" I'd asked with a confused look.
"Dismissive in general," she'd say.
I couldn't believe what she was saying. It was a mystery to me.
Part of my issue at the time was that I didn't have any way of seeing my own dismissive attitude. There is no mirror to look into. I was too pedantic to listen to people, too engaged with my own upward spiral in the workplace, too full of pride.
Being dismissive is one of the best ways to make sure people hate you. At the grocery store, you smirk and tell the checkout clerk that the green beans are on sale. At the dinner table, you read an iPad instead of talking. In the break room, you interrupt conversations to correct people. "Well, you are a little fuzzy on your facts," you announce.
When you leave the break room, they sneer. They're glad you left.
Your body language speaks volumes. You look away from people, losing interest in what they are saying. You keep checking your phone. You look at your watch.
Dismissiveness is one of those qualities that is fairly common, but it's difficult to know when you have it. Ironically, everyone picks up on it. Being dismissive is also self-perpetuating. The more dismissive you are, the more you puff yourself up. Then you become even more inflated, which means you're less likely to notice your own dismissive attitude. There are people I know who are so dismissive they are completely unaware of the problem. There is a good chance they will never realize it.
How do you uncover the problem?
I've written before about how my daughters taught me to show more empathy. It is something you can learn over time. Your empathy meter can rise and fall, and it takes effort to keep it calibrated. In the same way, you can listen to how you talk, pay attention to the look people give you, and even ask a bold question.
"Do you think I'm dismissive?" is not a bad question to ask, as long as trust the person you're asking. You should be prepared for an answer you won't like too much.
There's no person more hated in the office than someone who acts dismissive. Here's how the problem started to reveal itself in my own life. In a checkout lane, I'd sometimes look away from the person scanning my groceries. I'd glance at my phone or think about something else. I was being dismissive. To combat this, I started asking more questions.
"How is your day going today?"
"Do you know of any good specials in the store?"
Often, it's a college-aged kid in my area, maybe someone who is working on a degree in theoretical physics or chemistry. I have no right to dismiss them. I've learned a lot while waiting for my grocery bill. These were conversations I was avoiding before.
The good news is that the answer to the problem is to be more attentive to people, to see their value. Dismissing people means you are missing out on new information. And, even worse, it means you are are making new enemies. No one likes someone who is dismissive. That pride is pretty vapid. By ignoring others, you are essentially giving them fodder to think of you as haughty and rude. You're making enemies.
Showing more empathy?
Looking people in the eye?
Keeping your phone in your pocket?
These minor acts will make you more likable.
You'll make new friends, even at the grocery store.