Jul 182013 23 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

23 Responses to How to Respond to Mean People
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