Monday, September 14, 2015

Challenging Unkind Behavior

Do you ever read a rant about a dancer on Facebook?  Have you overheard dancers at a show commenting negatively about others?  Have you ever been to a bellydance event where there was clearly an "in" group who were not friendly to dancers unless they were "important"?  How do you feel about challenging these behaviors when you see/hear/read them?  How do you decide when challenging the unkind behavior is better than ignoring it?

In this blog, I am going to talk about challenging unkind behavior in the dance community by applying some ideas from research on bystander behavior and confronting racism.  Our ultimate goal is to respond to unkind behavior in such a way that the other person can hear our feedback.  This isn't always easy to do and getting better at it is a process.

Initially, we may find that we are only able to identify unkind behavior (our own or someone else's) after the fact, maybe because someone else points it out to us.  Eventually, we are able to recognize the behavior at the time it occurs. Ultimately, we want to be able to decide the best way to respond at the time the behavior occurs. Sometimes this means choosing to respond later in private.   Sometimes it means responding immediately.

So how do you respond?

Discussion Tips for Challenging Unkind Behavior:

Discuss the person being disparaged in the context of your relationship to them
    Mary is an ATS(R) dancer from my community.  She may not have a lot of skill, but she is kind and friendly and really eager to learn.

ATS(R) Homecoming 2015 was a great example of a supportive dance environment
Picture of Terri's veil workshop

Ask questions (statements can generate resistance, questions invite conversation)
    Why do you say that?  How much do you know about the situation?

Consider planting a seed rather than needing instant resolution
    I have been thinking a lot lately about how I interact with other dancers in our community and part of that is not staying in conversations that are (or could turn) negative.  I would love to tell you about my thoughts sometime if you are interested.

Appeal to the person's best self
    I'm surprised to hear you say that because I have always thought of you as a person who was very supportive/kind.

My daughter sleeping on the floor with her dog who was too old to jump on the bed anymore.
It was years ago but this was the sweetest picture I could find.
We all have that kindness inside.

Talk about how it makes you feel (telling them how to behave- what to do or not to do- can be disputed, but how you feel cannot)
    It makes me uncomfortable to hear you say that/ to talk about this/ to read this.

Approach the person with respect rather than self-righteous indignation
    I know how tempting it is to vent about _____ because I struggle with it also, but we made a commitment not to talk negatively about others and we have to help each other stick to that promise.

In the past when my behavior has been challenged, I was much more open to the feedback when the person talked to me like I was a good person who just had a lapse in judgement.  Think about the ways you would be most open to hearing this kind of feedback and try to follow the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)

Good luck and don't hesitate to touch base with Terri or I if we can help you problem-solve about a specific situation.




  1. Thank you so much for this! I've tried, in the past to move some conversations in another direction, conversations that were unkind and hurtful about a person I'd never even met yet by the "asking questions" tactic, and ended up having the conversation turned against me, but I felt it was better to have mean things said about me to my face rather than mean things about another being said behind their back. If it ever comes up again, I'll be happy to try some of these others!

    1. Thank you Audrey. It is natural for people to get defensive when they realize that they are being less that kind. Most people aren't used to anyone confronting them, no matter how gently. Good luck with using some of the other strategies.

  2. Thank you Lisa/Terri for these social tools in a nutshell Everyone has bad days, moods, etc. I am pretty accepting and mostly mind my own business, but recently, at a large ATS event, someone really got my goat (so to speak). Here's how it went: I said hello to a beautiful dancer who I did not know Her response was " Do I know YOU?" At which time she turned her back to me and walked away. I found it comical but my dancers were shocked. I had to defuse the hateful un-encounter for them to avoid spoiling their evening. After all, they'd traveled, dressed up and had high hopes for the evening. Being who I am, I refuse to let someone spoil my fun time There was nothing to do but smooth it over with my troupe and move on. The moral of this is; If someone does peepee in the corn flakes, flush it, wash the bowl, and have a bagel instead.

    1. It sounds like you had a perfect response to a difficult encounter. Good for you for helping your students to continue to have fun.