Self-Reflection and Respectful Conversations: It Starts – and Ends – with You


Many discussions on workplace respect focus on the relationships and dynamics between individuals. This might include concerns with someone’s work practices or decisions or perhaps their workplace behaviour or communication. Perhaps it is a conflict or disagreement between two people regarding operational changes, work priorities or project development.

While a review and understanding of these interpersonal and team dynamics are important, a critical step in understanding and improving relationships with others often involves spending more time on our own, along with a willingness – during that alone time – to pause, reflect and better understand ourselves.

This need for self-reflection shows up at different stages of any conflict/disagreement.

At the Beginning

Before we have conversations about others – or with them – we should first “push the pause button” and have a conversation with ourselves, preferably after a good meal and a restful sleep.

Once we’ve re-charged, we should sit and reflect on whatever is upsetting us, with the following questions in mind:

  1. In thinking back to the latest incident/interaction, identify when you first became upset/triggered. Attempt to determine where and when you first became upset (was it a meeting, phone call or email you received?); and then unpack it further to figure out why you may have reacted in that way.
  2. If it was a comment made in the meeting, ask yourself what about that comment bothered you: was it the comment itself or was it more about who made it? Was the comment inaccurate or missing important context? Was it rooted in faulty assumptions? Or, was the comment accurate but relayed in a disrespectful manner and if so, how? Was it the person’s tone or their non-verbal gestures/expression? Or, was it simply because others were in the room?  It is up to you to figure out the details of your concern.  Others won’t be able to clearly understand the problem unless you can better understand and articulate it yourself.
  3. As part of this reflective process, ask yourself what you would have preferred to have happened instead, bearing in mind that sometimes we are expected to hear things we don’t want to hear – but need to – as part of our role in a workplace. Our “wish list” needs to be practical and reasonable. For example, if you were upset because someone criticized you in a group meeting, a reasonable preference might have been for them to have taken you aside and speak to you privately.
  4. You can use your take-aways from this self-reflective process to more clearly describe for others what specifically upset you in the past – and what you would prefer to happen in the future.

During the Discussion

  1. A second way in which self-reflection is helpful is during discussions with others.
  2. While a conversation is progressing, it is important to monitor and honestly reflect on your communication at the time (that is, what do you sound like (regardless of your intentions) – what is your tone like – do you sound agitated, abrasive or condescending? What is your pace like – measured or rushed? What are you actually saying – are the words professional and civil?)
  3. If, during this self-reflection, you realize you are not on your A-game in terms of respectful content, tone or delivery, then take a break, breathe and return to try again.
  4. As important as it is to reflect on your own behaviour, also observe how you are reacting to the other person’s communication. Are you becoming upset by what they are saying or the manner in which they are saying it? Is there something about their overall demeanour that is setting you off? If so, use this reflection to ask for a break. Then, return to the conversation and openly discuss your concerns about how things are progressing and ways in which you would like the conversation to change. I call this “mirroring in the moment” so the other person understands how they are coming across, even if they aren’t aware of this and whether or not it is intentional. If it doesn’t seem feasible to re-group at the time, then take a longer break, perhaps 24 hours, and try again – perhaps this time, with a support person present.

At the End

  1. At the end of conversations with others, there are two types of self-reflection that might need to happen:
  1. First, if the conversation went sideways or was pleasant enough but did not result in a satisfactory outcome, then reflect on how you might have contributed to the current situation and determine what steps, if any, you might take to get things back on track; and
  2. Second, during the conversation, you may well have heard things about your own work practices, communication, attitude or otherwise that have created issues for others. Sometimes, we are so focused on the other person’s role in our conflict that we neglect to consider our own. Feedback from others helps to “catch us up” on how we might have been or continue to be a part of the dysfunction.
  3. Rather than shut down or react in a dismissive or deflective manner, step away from the discussion, re-charge once again (I’m a big fan of good food and great sleep), and then reflect on what you’ve heard about yourself. You don’t have to agree with everything that’s been said – but it’s helpful to genuinely consider the feedback and remain open to dialing back or adjusting some aspects of yourself that may be interfering with the ability of others to function at their best.

While conflict resolution generally requires the active commitment and engagement of everyone involved, that interpersonal process will not be very helpful if those in the room have not spent some time on their own. Reflect on your own – communicate respectfully with others – and repeat. This won’t give you all the answers to the many twists and turns of conflict conversations, but it’s a necessary and helpful place to start.

Join me for our upcoming complimentary webinar Thursday, April 28, 10:00-10:30 am PT, where I will be discussing this important topic. Click the link to sign up.

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