Jul 182013 22 Responses

How to Respond to Mean People

Mean people are all around.

They lie in wait hoping to spring their meanness on others.

They can be avoided. Simply don’t do anything productive and they will leave you alone.

Yet try doing something. Try producing art. Try taking a stand. Make an attempt to make the world better and you will be ambushed.

Mean people are like wasps. They take movement as a threat so they attack. Stay still and you are safe. Move and you are the enemy. (See: Don’t Be a Facebook Piranha)

Good people, however, have to move. We have to fix problems, find solutions, challenge the status quo. Good people can’t stay silent when injustice abounds. We can’t sit still when there is work to be done. We can’t do nothing when there is art to create.

Good people must act.

Mean people will attack the actors.

Which leaves one relevant question: how do we deal with mean people?

The most powerful approach to mean people is to simply ignore them.

It doesn’t always work.

It isn’t always an option. (See: The Ends Don’t Justify the Mean)

Yet far more often than we realize, the best thing to do with a mean person is to do nothing.

Ignoring someone has great power, because most mean people are looking for attention.

Like a two-year old who hasn’t learned how to get attention in a positive way, they get attention the only way they know how—by acting out.

Obviously a parent can’t ignore every bad action by a child, but energy is better spent by engaging good behavior and ignoring bad behavior.

Ignore what you can.

  • Don’t respond to rude comments.
  • Don’t react to obvious slights.
  • Don’t passive-aggressively write a Facebook post about them.

Simply ignore bad behavior.

When ignoring is not an option and you have to respond, consider the following:

Don’t fight fire with fire. Mean people do not give you the right to act mean. By doing so, you become no different than them.

Don’t play the one-upmanship game. The danger of responding to a mean person is the temptation is to be more mean than them. They are then tempted to be more mean than you. Eventually the ugly conversation turns brutal.

Be firm. There is a difference between being mean and being firm. The first is inappropriate; the second is necessary. Mean people are used to walking over people; they are not used to someone standing firm. Stand firm. Be unmoved by how they respond. You are in charge of your emotions; do not hand control of yourself over to them. (See: The Number One Rule of Disagreement)

The meaner they get, the kinder you get. Make it a game. Mean people want others to be mean so they can justify themselves. Kindness takes away the justification.

Love. The command to love is not saved for only those who love you first. Just because someone is mean doesn’t give you the freedom to stop loving them. Remember, Love Doesn’t Always Feel Loving so don’t confuse being walked over for true love. But do figure out the most loving action to take toward the person and love them.

Mean people are all around, but their meanness says more about them than it does you. Rick Warren says, “hurt people hurt people.” When a mean person tries to hurt you, remember they are the ones who are hurting.

For more, check out:

Criticism: How to Listen When Others Speak

Criticism: How to Speak so Others Listen

22 Responses to How to Respond to Mean People
  1. Linda Scarbrough Reply

    While in the nursing home visiting my sister. A woman who is over 90 and Christian bent to make everyone at the nursing home abide by her (Christian) rules.

    But needless to say, I was caught up with this mean and angry woman who attacks with malice.

    Then as you said above Kevin, I tried to hold my ground with this woman, all the time she became meaner and meaner.

    I walked away thinking of the test I failed.

    How this woman’s meanness was placed in my heart.

    I thank you for your words of wisdom and pray that I can do something kind for this woman. There is no question she is angry and mean for a reason.

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  5. Dan La Rue Reply

    Kevin I hear what you are saying, But it won’t always work that way. Some times the nicer you are to someone the meaner they get. they won’t always let you walk away. These people think you are weak and won’t leave you alone. Its kind of like the big guy picking on the little guy. The big guy likes to push and shove. and you can’t get away. Its like going into a battle with out a gun. It just won’t work. If every one is like you are it would be a perfect world. The little guy has to learn how to protect his self with out causing a fight. And that is hard to do. after you have proved your self, you can be nice and walk away. That mean person needs to be able to look at you and know he can’t push you around. You are a nice person, and could go any place and work with out any problems. But there is always that one person that likes to cause a problem. In all the years I worked in management I could pick this person out. and that was the person that I would try to win-over. If you can make this person feel good about his or her self the rest will fall in place. You Know they say there is some good in every one. But you just have to find it. The mean person will always pay the price, They are really the weak ones.and strong people are not always the big person. But you still need to know when to walk away.

  6. […] Most people spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about other people. It’s a habit which... kevinathompson.com/what-god-says-about-other-people
  7. KAS Reply

    I failed the test too but, this article was helpful. Sometimes we forget to do the right things ourselves. Ignoring people has not helped me, but I do try.

  8. tani Reply

    dan la rue,

    i agree with you,they think you are weak

  9. Jeff warren Reply

    Resently l’ev been ln contact with several mean people. And didn’t respond back in the same maner. But later was angery at myself. So thank you for the encouragement. And reminding me why God transformed me.

  10. tuckerfamily Reply

    i have a mean familys slap people in face

  11. DARLEEN Reply

    Yes…….what hurts me most is my unfinished business or my unsettled pain that when that hurt person was mean to me it struck a nerve it made my past hurt worse to the point of me having an anxiety attack over the silliest littlest thing…I chose to see it from a different perspective and prayed for this person…he is a brother of a friend with whom I am staying with……her brother is like a briefly bear and I took his harsh conversation personally yet it was not my right to take on something that was not mine to take…je is going through a divorce and his dance partner he has had for a while with whom he had invested time with and went with to several competitions together moved away and that made him angry so you are right hurting people hurt people…….I guess it is an outlet yet I get so tired of being the fall guy for other people’s emotional crisis and I tend to react back…….like when I feel someone is hanging up on me I lash out…no one likes to feel like they are prey for others to pick apart like vultures and this society this world has created a lot of wounded souls…who do not know how to deal with their pain…….I avoid and ignore wrap myself up in lovely relaxing happy upbeat music…wjen they said I talk to myself quite a bit…….I took offense to it……I say a lot under my breath and try to stay focused that way when I feel cornered…I am an empath and feel OTHERS pain…….I almost left yet standing firm now…homesick for being with my loved ones again who accept me in their pack as one of their own…this is new to me…so I will try to make a go of it and not take the tjomg so seriously! Notperfectyet

  12. eric Reply

    Very difficult to do when mean people have authority or leverage over you. That’s when I feel like mean people win and decent people are garbage. The world rewards a-holes and punishes people who want to do the right thing. Just look at our president.

  13. K.D. Reply

    I have spent the past 8 almost 9 days now ignoring bad behavior in my marriage, only to be met with more mental, verbal and emotional abuse. My ignoring is taken as me thinking I’m better, I’m more moral, more Christian, more perfect, etc. Instead the truth is I’m trying not to reward abuse. We agreed long ago that when we were in an argument that we would hang up, calm down and revisit. That never happens. Apparently, if I’m not going to “follow” what he wants then neither will he. The problem is I won’t follow an unreasonable, irrational, twisted truth way of thinking. So that makes me everything under the sun. Ignoring makes it worse, but so does caving in and just going with whatever to stop the fight. I give up.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      This article isn’t about marriage. We can’t ignore spouses.

      • K.D. Reply

        No, but it is about ignoring the bad behavior of mean people. In my case it spoke to me about my marriage. I guess it could be applied to many facets of life. Thanks for replying!

  14. Vickie Reply

    Sometimes it is just the things they say that hurt you the most. Out of the blue my mother who is now 83 will say nasty comments to me. I️ have decided to ignore her and come to the realization that somewhere in her past made her the way she is but that doesn’t mean that I️ should be that way too. Ignoring her is the true test without saying anything mean back. Good luck to all and blessings.

    • mary Reply

      To Vickie,,,we took care of our parents for 15 years,,My dad was a little easier since my Ma was also still alive,,but after he died,,I took care of my mother,,,I could not believe how cruel and mean hearted this women was..Even my neighbor tould us,, she doen’t appreciate 1 thing u do for her,,as a matter of fact,,your so=called parents,,who followed us up North when we moved to another state,,they told us my patent were badwrapping me and my husband to anyone who would listen,,Found this out after both their death,,My point being it is a lot tougher ignoring mean people when they are so-called family..We moved away from my family because they were soo mean and cuel liars,,,but what do u do when they follow you?/I tell u what we did,,because a daughter is suppose to take care of their parents,,,that is what I did,,,it was more of a ,”duty,” type thing,,,After discovering all the terrible badwraps they and other family members would lie about.to strangers,member of the community.The truth was they were jealous,,,that I and my hubby at a very young age paid of our home and were financially stable,,,They were all soo pist off that my parents choose to stay w/us,,,instead of a nursing home,,who wouldn’t,,Till this day,,,its been 6 years since both their death,,,I have not,,nor never will speak to 3 out 4 family member because of their lies ,meanest and cruelity,,Thus,,,avoiding the evil mean people,,Even if they are blood,,For me,,a so-called ,”family,” is not suppose to be to cruel and mean to their own kind,thats not a display of love for sure,,maryw

  15. Caleb Reply

    My heart of coming all honesty.. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen as the wise young lady explained how people will try to bring you down to their level.. Some things out of experience can only one may so ever see the bigger picture. The reward is final. Time is essence and patience is a virtue. Silence shall not be mistaken as it may be hard to underestimate. Wise words spoken in fact that through wisdom of the mind one may see the other destroy themselves with their own sorrow. One must learn how to maneuver through the wind with everlasting balance. Regardless of the storm may sweep you off your feet may be it. Last but not least mother taught me not to contemplate things before hand as this leads to worry and dought. Just wait until it happens. As step grandad once said “you’ll be surprised what you can do with your back against the wall”. -A man who served and retired Navy mind you. I’m pleased to share my offer as a wish to help others. I feel as if I’m not alone in this which gives me greater joy and understanding. Gentlemen/Lads. My pleasure.

  16. bridget Reply

    I’ve enjoyed many encouraging words here so thanks for sharing ! I’ve been having more n more trouble the more time I spend with God and the more time I spend strengthing my mind with beautiful things and positive thoughts, the more I exercise my healthy mindsets and view negative words as a positive so this one brother will lose his narssisit hold, the more cruel he is. Then turns around n blames me and everyone else he can dream up for his justified cruelty. Last night i read about brain growth ,it was insightful. Emotional stuff can literally be because that side of the brain is not working or grown. I’m still don’t enjoy his hate-mongering. But I’m searching for understanding just so his hate doesn’t keep spreading. He’s been very brutal to many in many churches. It has to stop.

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  18. AVA Reply

    it hurts when your siblings and parents hurt you makes me cry fell like i am broken but i know GOD LOVES ME SO I DONT CARE HOW THEY MAKE IT SEEM

  19. Rachel Reply

    I agree, I work with someone who is awful but I know this is because she feels awful. I feel sorry for her. She is her own worst enemy. So I go about my day and enjoy the company of people who are nice. I wouldn’t use these examples if your are in a relationship with someone though. If they are not willing to become more mindful of their actions and words and willing to seek therapy then it is time for you to move on. Realise you deserve someone who treats you like you they way everyone should be treated. Otherwise it is almost like you are punishing yourself.

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