'Don't give up your day job!' It's the great leveller.

In many business cultures and families the put-down is an accepted part of conversation and humour - after all, nobody wants anyone to become a big-head. For some people it's an instant response, as if they can't bear the thought that someone else might be successful at something.

To be fair, many people use mild put-downs to show that our relationship is sufficiently warm for us to tease each other. ('We're such good mates that I can be rude to you.')

But put-downs cross the line when they carry a message of contempt or ridicule.

You might decide that contempt or ridicule has no place in your business or family - that the put-down is contrary to your values.

I have not heard a genuine put-down in my own company since it was founded 30 years ago. It would seem jarring and aggressive. There's still room for disagreement, even criticism, but that always focuses on the decision, or idea, not the person and comes with fundamental respect.

Of course you could say, why don't people just toughen up? Why can't we just have a good laugh?

The research on relationships tells us that contempt and riducule are particularly destructive. They drain the reservoir of goodwill that's essential for people who work and live together. They stress our bodies instantly and dramatically. They undermine people and teams.

The put-down has very little going for it.

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