When Someone's so Horrible You Don't Know What to Do
You know those times when someone says something horrible
to you? It could be in a meeting, at a code review, on a phone call
with a client, in the break room, even at lunch off site. Someone says
something manipulative, bullying, rude, that leaves you speechless.
It's so bad, and so unexpected, you don't know what to say or do.
Maybe you've practiced how to respond — such as using "I messages,"
saying "That sounded rude, was that really what you meant?" — but you
forget everything you've practiced.
Here's something easy and simple to do. Which is
good, because when you are in that "fight or flight" mode, easy and
simple are best. What's more, it's something that works in pretty much all situations, no matter what the other person has said.
The Technique — Here's What You Do
- Look at the person.
Let a couple seconds go by. It might feel like forever, but that's all right. Keep your face as neutral as possible.
- Say something like "Um… what?"
Some other options:
* "Excuse me?"
* "What was that?"
* "Do what, now?" (if you're from the South)
* "What was your purpose in saying that?"
Or whatever comes naturally to you. Say it in a neutral tone of voice, at least, as neutral as you can.
- Look at the person some more.
Again, it might
feel like forever, but wait about three times as long as you think you
should. Keep your face as neutral as possible.
- Then move on.
Either you'll think of something
to say, the other person will change the subject or apologize, or you'll
find a way to leave the meeting or end the conversation.
Let the Other Person feel Guilty, Buy Yourself Time
The beauty of this technique is that you let the other person's conscience do the work.
They know they've said something manipulative, that they're being a
bully, that they're being rude, or that they're trying to shut you up.
By using this technique, you give the other person time to feel guilty.
Even if the other person doesn't feel guilty, they'll notice that you're not rising to the bait. The less they get the reaction they want, the less likely they are to say something like this again.
And in case the other person didn't intend to be rude or hurtful, you've given them time to realize that something's gone wrong.
And Figure Out What to do Next
In either case, you buy yourself some time to think
about what to do and figure out what to say. You know, the brilliant
things you think of later on, after the meeting, or the code review, or
when you're falling asleep that night, or whatever.
So, next time someone says something awful and you don't know what to
do, use this easy technique. Look at the person, say "Um… what?",
look at the person some more. Buy some time to let the other person feel
guilty, and for you to think of a safe and easy way to move on.