Archive for the ‘People skills’


January 23rd, 2008

Dealing with insults, put-downs, and criticism.

Everyday we face the causal cruelty of many of the people we associate with. Human beings have an inbuilt tendency to assess each other. We are all guilty of judging other people by our own standards and finding them wanting. But good manners and consideration for another’s feelings usually stops us from voicing our criticism (at least to their face).

Some people however have no such restraint. Either because they are thoughtless, insensitive, inconsiderate, ignorant of acceptable social behaviour, or because of more sinister motives, some people freely insult, put-down and unfairly criticize others. We’ve all experienced it, the insult couched as humour or ‘advice’ that stuns and leaves us speechless. It’s usually only hours later that we think of an appropriate response, but by then the damage is well done—our self-esteem is battered and the verbal abuser has got away with it.

Firstly, we need to recognize that most put-downs and criticism are often more about the one dishing them out than their target. Such people are usually angry, envious, frustrated, ill-mannered, self-centred, bad-tempered, a bully, spiteful, sadistic, lacking empathy, or just having a bad day. What they say to you may have nothing to do with you at all.

Most people have a tendency to do what they can get away with—and if they do, then it escalates. We teach people how to treat us. It is best to challenge insults, for our own sakes (so that our self-esteem doesn’t suffer) and for our ‘attacker’s’ (so that our silence doesn’t encourage and reinforce their behaviour). Insults and put-downs are acts of hostility that we need to protect ourselves from.

So what are the best comebacks for our verbal self-defense? The following ideas may help, but also, remember to keep your cool. Losing your temper or getting into an altercation won’t help. Your attitude is as important as what you say.

If someone insults you, you could respond with:

  • “If you have something to say, do it without insulting me.”

  • “I’m sure you aren’t deliberately try to hurt my feelings.”

  • “Did you intend to hurt my feelings by what you just said?”

  • “That’s a cruel thing to say.”

  • “Ouch”

  • “Haven’t you heard that wise old adage: If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all?”

  • “Why do you feel the need to insult me?”

  • You could respond with C H Spurgeon’s quote: “Insults are like bad coins; we cannot help there being offered us, be we need not take them.”

  • “What is it about you that makes you want to hurt people?”

Many people hide their insults and hostility behind ‘humour’, or, if you call them on their insult they accuse you of ‘not being able to take a joke.’ So you might try:

  • “The definition of a joke is something that incites laughter. Well I’m not laughing.”

  • “Insults pretending to be jokes are not funny, they are vicious.”

Or you can respond with humour yourself to counter the insulter. Such as:

  • A friend was all dressed up for a party but her sister’s response was “Well, looks aren’t everything.” Although my friend was hurt she responded with a laugh, “Well, I guess you’d know all about that.”

  • Or, laugh and agree with them. If someone called you a nerd for example, be flippant and agree, “Yes, I’m a total nerd,” as though it is a great joke or something to be proud of. After letting my hair grow longer than normal my then mother-in-law (an insult expert) told me I looked like a cave woman (it was her condescending tone rather than the words that stung). So I smiled, “Oh great, that’s just the look I’m after.” People hate it when you don’t take their insults seriously.

When someone unfairly criticizes you or puts you down you could try:

  • “I don’t accept what you say.”

  • “I’m not interested in what you think is wrong with me.”

  • “You don’t know me so your view can’t be accurate.”

  • “What do you mean by that exactly?”

  • “That’s your opinion but it’s not mine.”

  • “I disagree.”

  • “Does saying things like that make you feel more important?”

  • “You don’t have the right to judge my personal qualities or the way I do things.”

  • “Mind you own business.”

  • “Stop criticizing me!”

  • “That was a low blow.”

  • “So you like to play dirty?”

  • “I’m only interested in the opinions of people I respect.”

  • “It’s my policy not to tolerate verbal abuse.”

  • “If you can’t speak to me with respect I’ll refuse to listen to you.”

  • “People who feel the need to boost their own egos by putting others down usually have a personality disorder.”

  • “Your envy is showing.”

  • “Don’t speak to me like that.”

  • “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

  • “And of course you are perfect?”

  • “I didn’t know you had a degree in…(whatever they are criticizing you about).” Or “I didn’t know you were a driving instructor/chef /etc (or expert in whatever area they are criticizing you for failing at).

  • “Who elected you God?”

  • Yawn and look bored.

  • Walk away.

  • Completely ignore them and their comment (being ignored really hurts someone who feels superior and most who insult, ridicule and put down do so because they think they have the right to because they are ‘better’.)

  • Tell anyone who constantly criticizes you that you will not take it anymore and be as good as your word. Hang up the phone or walk away at the first hint of criticism. Eventually they will get the message.

  • If they try to excuse their disrespect by saying they are only trying to ‘help’ you or that they are just being ‘honest’, tell them you are an adult and don’t need their ‘help’ and that they can keep their ‘honest’ comments to themselves.

  • If someone puts you down by giving you the ‘cold shoulder’ or ‘silent treatment’ turn on the radio, sing, listen to your Ipod or otherwise let them know that the quiet doesn’t bother you in the least.

If someone who has no right to tries to boss you around simply refuse to comply or say:

  • “I don’t take orders.”

  • “Seeing I’m not a slave or a servant I know you can’t be talking to me.”

  • “I only respond to requests.”

  • Or, treat them like a child and ask, “What’s the magic word?” (please).

Some people are experts at spotting and targeting your insecurities so set limits to what you will accept from others and don’t be afraid to challenge anyone who trespasses. Don’t let anyone impose labels or their own negative definition of you.

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