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Do People Take You Seriously? If Not, Why Not?

If people aren’t receptive to you, it could be on them—but it's probably on you.

Source: Joel Rouse, photographer/Flickr
Source: Joel Rouse, photographer/Flickr

Do you see yourself as ignored or condescended to? Your ideas slighted, discounted, or forgotten? Might you sometimes feel you’re actually being made fun of—or at least not respected as much as you need to be? (Note that being respected and taken seriously are virtually the same thing.)

This post will explore why you might experience such frustrations and whether others bear primary responsibility for your dissatisfaction or whether it’s you who must be held accountable.

When It’s Their Fault

Almost all the literature on this topic centers on what—specifically in the workplace—you’re lacking or failing to do that inclines others not to take you seriously. Despite the likelihood that you’re more responsible for the problem than they are, to most accurately explain the dynamics of this situation, it may be useful to first investigate when you’re not to blame. So, as a sampling, you may not be taken seriously because:

1. You’re with super-critical, judgmental people who routinely put others down and probably would feel invalidated if they took what you said as being as good as—or better than—what they themselves had to say.

2. You’re with highly competitive individuals who need to see themselves as having more authority or expertise than you, and that prompts them to ignore or disparage your viewpoint or behavior. Regardless of how much authority you might possess on a matter, their combative egos won’t allow them to take you seriously.

3. You’re denied any authority or respect because you’re not yet an adult—or at least substantially younger than they are. And although their not taking you seriously could relate mostly to your age, it could also link to your looks. If you appear much younger than your chronological age (determined mostly by genetics), they may view you as someone who can’t possibly have the same authority as they do.

4. Your achievements are seen as not equal to their own, chiefly because you’re younger than they are. Consequently, they’re not willing to acknowledge that you’re just as capable as they are and that your successes will likely match or surpass theirs as you get older.

5. You’re overweight, underweight, diminutive; or you represent a different race, ethnicity, ideology, etc., than theirs. That is, if you’re seen in a way that mirrors others’ prejudices, they may (however unconsciously) dismiss your authority out of hand.

6. In growing up—or maybe beyond—you received a psychiatric diagnosis that, for instance, your parents refused to believe or take seriously. They wouldn’t give it credibility because they somehow saw it as reflecting negatively on their parenting. They might also have tried to convince you (and themselves) that you were just going through a stage, that you’d eventually “get over it.”

When It’s Your Fault

It’s curious that of the many writers who have examined this topic, several of them have done so in ways that don’t simply overlap but repeat each other verbatim—and without a single citation to their source(s). Without speculating about this, I’ll add only that my own synthesis encompasses much of the same material earlier examined. Here are four of the writers whose articles aren’t just replicative but at different points identical: Jayson DeMers (11/20/15), Lolly Daskal (2/10/17), Dumb Little Man [!] (11/19/18), and Dan Lok (5/13/20).

Below is a summation of points they expound on, plus a few of my own additions and qualifications:

1. As a child, you felt insecure and less than others. And though since then you’ve substantially developed your resources, demonstrating that you’re as competent as anyone else, you haven’t known how, deep within, to eradicate past childhood insecurities. Because you’ve not internalized your successes, thereby upgrading or updating your self-image, others attribute little authority to what you say.

2. You project self-doubt, as though you can’t speak with much authority. Lacking confidence in yourself prevents others from having confidence in you. Doubt in yourself breeds doubt from others. In addition, your apprehensions impede you from “going for it” in a variety of self-defeating ways.

3. You’re difficult to understand because articulating your beliefs with precision isn’t one of your strengths. Deficient in the ability to state your views clearly, you’ll come across as not really having much of value to say about whatever topic is being discussed or negotiated.

4. Your emotions are all over the place. If, as you’re presenting your views, you’re sobbing or shouting, or exhibiting anxiety about how others might be evaluating you, your audience—inevitably focusing more on what they see as your out-of-control emotionality—will be leery about taking you seriously and dismiss the authority of whatever you’re trying to address.

5. You’re too playful. You may much earlier have developed a habit of acting clownish to get your classmates to laugh, or to better fit in with them. But if in various adult situations you still “play” it for laughs, that interpersonal orientation can have the unfortunate effect of undermining your credibility. So even when you mean to be taken seriously, others’ perception of you may make it impossible for them to do so. For asserting your deeper thoughts won’t feel authentic to them.

6. You’re too accommodating or deferential, so others can’t help but somehow look down on you. After all, you may have given them the message that what they had to say carried more authority than anything you might say.

7. You’re absent-minded or habitually tardy. Say, you commonly arrive late to work, as well as to meetings, appointments, interviews, lunches, etc. The inference that most of your cohorts will make is that you don’t take your work or relationships that seriously—so why should they take you seriously?

8. You “dress down” when no one else does. If your attire is overly casual, you can be seen as sloppy (if not slovenly). And because people may link your too-informal getup with how you approach your life and work generally, they may conclude that you’re not sufficiently responsible to be taken seriously.

8. You don’t follow through. To earn others’ respect, you need to deliver on your promises. If your word can’t be trusted, you can’t either. That’s why it’s actually better to underpromise, for then you’ll impress others that much more when you accomplish more than maybe you (or they) imagined you could.

9. You don’t hold yourself accountable for your oversights or mistakes. When you’re too concerned with covering up your errors through making excuses, it’s generally because you fear others’ judgment. But your excuse-making won’t increase their respect for you, just the opposite. The fact is that confident people are comfortable owning up to their mistakes and admitting when they’re wrong. And that makes others regard them more sympathetically—and, too, more capable and trustworthy.

10. You’re arrogant. This translates to being seen as cocky or overconfident, bossy, patronizing, smug, and pompous. Obviously, none of these traits is enviable, and they won’t merit any respect. However ironic, it takes confidence to act humbly, which in turn serves to win others’ confidence. If you’re uncertain about something and are comfortable asking for assistance, revealing that you’re ready to learn from others, they’ll likely perceive you as professional, conscientious, and responsible.

11. You talk more than you listen. Such individuals are typically viewed as conceited loudmouths, aggressively interrupting others or talking over them to “win” a dialogue (which they wrongly react to as a debate). So if, for whatever reason, your active listening skills are underdeveloped, you’ll prevent yourself from learning what others may have to offer you—and you’ll probably offend them as well.

12. Your body language is off-putting. You don’t stand up straight with shoulders back, exuding confidence and conviction; maintain eye contact; or honor others’ buffer zone. Shortcomings in this area are likely to be perceived as connoting timidity, disregard, or disrespect. And, however unconsciously, others will probably conclude you're weak. non-caring, or untrustworthy.

13. If you’re routinely witnessed “hanging” with the wrong crowd (read, flippant, frivolous, nonchalant, or roguish), it will affect how they see you, too—as less than principled about proper behavior. Regrettably, but maybe not, individuals are often defined (or defamed) by the company they keep.

14. You don’t stay informed. If you’re lax in keeping up with the news and important events in the world—and, too, developments in your particular field—you’ll impress others as negligently ill-informed. And that’s just one more reason (among so many) that you may not be taken seriously.

© 2021 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All rights reserved.