It seems to be nothing these days for people to shoot off hurtful, insensitive barbs. Why not? The president is doing it; it’s gotta be fine. The hell with politically correct mannerisms.
Though some barbs between friends are endearments (like guys punching each other in the shoulder), other barbs are menacing. They are power signals designed to tout superiority and to let you know what an idiot you are. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t give them the power to make you feel threatened or bad about yourself.
I know, but you do feel bad. You’re tongue-tied, scared and silently stewing; thinking of all those comebacks you could have made after the encounter is over. Yeah, you could have gone down that retaliatory road. But that’s what they want from you. To get you riled up; to get under your skin; to get a reaction from you that they then can ridicule and deride. But if I don’t respond in kind, doesn’t that give the other person the power? Aren’t they getting away with something?
No! If you don’t respond in kind it means they haven’t hooked you. They threw out a derisive political hook, and it didn’t catch anything. It’s like fishing and not catching a fish. It’s like a tug-of-war that you’re tired of, so instead of continuing to play, you drop the rope and walk away. Your opponent continues to yank and falls flat on their face.
So, should I just walk away? Yes, that’s one possibility. Here are a few more:
Make a simple, unexpected remark that ends the “conversation.”
“Thanks for your opinion.” Or, “Yup, I can see who you’re voting for.” Then walk away.
Use humor or a bit of sarcasm to lighten the mood.
“You’re right, my guy isn’t perfect — like your guy is?”
State succinctly what’s upsetting you. The less you say, the more power you have.
“Speak with me respectfully or stop speaking to me. Which will it be?”
Respond to the process (what’s happening), not to the content (the words said).
“I can see you’re all riled up today. What set you off?”
Suggest an alternative way to express oneself.
“I don’t mind if we disagree about this, but don’t call me an idiot. No name-calling.”
Enlighten the other about your sensitivities.
“I hate when you speak down to me. It reminds me of my abusive father. So, please use a less patronizing tone.”
Agree with what’s true but disagree with the negative value judgment.
“You’re right. I’ve been taking too long to do it. But it’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I want it to be as good as it can be.”
Yes, it would be great if people nixed their insults, squelched their criticisms and did nothing but support and encourage you. Yes, it would be fantastic if friends, family, co-workers and bosses put differences aside and went out of their way to appreciate you — how you think, how you feel, who you’re rooting for and what’s important to you.
But snarkiness in the media is the new norm. Verbal bashing is the new action game. People blame and shame all the time — and that’s on their good days. When they really have an ax to grind, they add insults, curses, ridicule and humiliation. And in this free-for-all era, we need to know how to fend off cheap shots, put-downs and slaps in the face with smart power, humor, respect and strength — not by stooping to their level.