7 Nice Things to Say to Mean, Rude People

1. To the Random, Infuriated Stranger: “Happy New Year!”
In our world of road rage and viral tirades, dealing with a jerk in public can be dangerous. So, proceed with caution—and where possible, kindness, too. Consider the technique used by a real-life relative of mine, when the man behind her in the drive-through-banking line felt that she was making her deposit too slowly. He laid on his horn, then proceeded to get out of his car, walk over and lean in toward her window, demanding to know, at a high volume, what in the bleep was taking her so long. Stunned, she answered, “Merry Christmas!” It was eight weeks past Christmas. The out-of-nowhere response confused him, shutting him up—and, as an added bonus, made her feel great, the way saying “Merry Christmas!” can. No fighting, no yelling, no stooping to his level. When he opened his mouth again, she added, “Happy New Year!”, then calmly completed her transaction while he, rudeness-neutralized, stormed back to his vehicle.
2. To Your Bitter Co-Worker: “Let’s do this over email.”
You don’t go to bed before an anger-dissolving heart-to-heart with your spouse (if you want to continue to live with this person). You explain to your best friend how she hurt your feelings and hug it out. But with crabby Carol from accounting, who always manages to sneak a snippy aside into every three-minute rendezvous at the Keurig, a little bit of avoidance is not going to damage your nonexistent relationship. The next time she attacks, simply say, “Oh dear, I’ve got to go. Let’s continue this on email.”
People tend to stick to the point on email—they want to do something for you or they want you to do something for them. Commentary on your new (very reasonably priced!) car or (slightly outdated!) hairstyle rarely comes up—and if it does, you can always click and drop the email directly in the trash.
3. To the Bad First Date: “This isn’t just about the soggy French fries, is it?”
Fifteen minutes in and you’ve already heard about how much he hates the food, his fantasy football league, his ex-wife and the uncomfortable chairs in doctors’ waiting rooms. When he yells at the waitress about the soggy fries, you may just want to dump your ketchup on his lap. Instead, remember how Martha Beck puts it, “Why are people mean? Here’s the short answer: They’re hurt. Here’s the long answer: They’re really hurt,” and ask him for a little backstory. The really good news here: His tale of past pain and woe doesn’t have to merge with your future. Express your sympathies. Don’t order a second drink. And check your dating app when he gets up to complain about the food.
4. To the Loudmouth, Extended-Family Member: “I’m sensitive.”
I’m not here to engage in a public conversation about the artistic merits of Jewel, the late-90s chanteuse, but I do want to remind you of her sweeter-than-sweet song with the refrain, “Please be careful with me, I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way.”
Because this is not the year that Uncle Kevin is going to miraculously transform into a person who refrains from making withering asides about everyone’s eating habits/child-rearing skills/voting record/city of choice/favorite sports team/preferred barbecue-sauce brand. Luckily, his lack of a filter is not your responsibility to fix, particularly since you only see him once a year. But you are allowed to express yourself, perhaps by saying, “You know what, Kev? I’m really sensitive to comments like that.” He’ll probably be so surprised that it will at least buy you a few minutes of quiet. Just fight the urge to apologize. You’re not sorry, you’re sensitive.
5. To the Lady at the DMV: “I would like to apologize on behalf of the human race.”
You’re miserable from the Kafka-esque hours spent waiting in line to renew your license, and the flickering fluorescent bulb has installed a permanent twitch in your left eyeball. Imagine how it feels to be there: All. The. Time. You get to leave (eventually). She doesn’t. Acknowledge that, with a kind, “People must be so rude to you here. I am so sorry. In fact, I’d like to apologize for people everywhere.” Extra points if you can say it without bitterness, even after she’s handed you 12 more forms to fill out. It might not make her any nicer, but even just attempting empathy is scientifically proven to improve the moods of everyone involved.
6. To a Romantic Partner: “Let’s listen to this song.”
He’s not a mean person, but let’s say a few mean things have come out of his mouth, inspired by too much honesty, exhaustion or a case of being-so-familiar-with-you-he-thinks-he-can-be-rude. Everyone understands how this happens. You probably do it, too. But enough of these comments can add up to your feeling hurt—and resentful. The next time your partner says something unkind, take a break and let Barbara Lynn do the talking for you, via the song lyric, “If you should lose me, oh yeah, you’ll lose a good thing…” (And if things have gotten really hostile, you might want follow it up with, “I actually do want this relationship to last, so let’s consider some couples therapy…”)
7. To the Online Troll: Nothing at all.

Amy Shearn is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far Is the Ocean From Here. She lives in Brooklyn, and online, at AmyShearnWrites.com.

Jean used to believe that she would never learn how to say no and make it stick. But, as she sat at her kitchen table with a teacup in hand, she felt amazed. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but a pleasant one. Her mind wandered back to the events of the morning. Her eight-year-old son, Bryan, had begun the day with his usual waking-up shenanigans. He sulked and pouted his way to the breakfast table, announcing, “I’m not going to school — and no one’s going to make me!”

Normally Jean would have either tried to talk Bryan into attending school, or blown up at him in frustration. However, this morning was different. Jean simply said, “You’re right, Honey. No one can make you go to school. That has to be something you choose to do. However, if you don’t choose to go to school, you are choosing to stay in your room all day with no TV. But that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself, like you did last week.”

Bryan hesitated in his tantrum. He was thinking about when Mom had made him stay in his room and miss dinner when he had refused to set the table. Finally, he said, “Well, I’ll go — but I don’t have to like it!”

“Absolutely,” Jean agreed. “You don’t have to like a lot of things like school. But I’m sure you’ve made the right choice.” She helped Bryan on with his jacket and watched him walk to the carpool ride outside.

Not ten minutes later, Jean had received a call from her husband, Jerry, who had driven to work early. “Honey,” he said. “I just found out I have a meeting after work. The last time I showed up late for dinner, there wasn’t any. Think you could save some this time?” Jean laughed. “Last time, you never called me to let me know. I really appreciate your telling me in advance. I’ll feed the kids, and you and I’ll eat together later.”

Jean thought to herself, “My son makes it to school, even with a cranky attitude. My husband calls me to inform me about schedule changes. I’m dreaming, aren’t I, Lord?”

Jean wasn’t dreaming. She was, for the first time in her life, experiencing the rewards of setting and maintaining clear boundaries in her life. A great deal of hard work and risk-taking had gone into them. Jean saw visible, demonstrable proof that her boundary work was bearing fruit in her life. Things were different. But how did she get from Point A (boundarylessness) to Point B (mature boundaries)? Can we measure our boundary development?

How to Say No: Step 1 – Practice Baby No’s

Growth in setting emotional boundaries must always be at a rate that takes into account your past injuries. Otherwise, you could fail massively before you have solid enough boundaries.

“This boundary teaching doesn’t work,” complained Frank in a therapy session.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, as soon as I understood that I don’t set good limits with people, I called my father the same day and gave him what for. Can you believe what he did? He hung up on me! This is great, just great. Boundaries have made things worse for me, instead of better.”

Frank is like the overeager child who is too impatient for training wheels on his new bicycle. It’s only several falls and skinned knees later that he begins to entertain the possibility that he skipped some steps in his training.

Here’s an idea to help you navigate this step. Ask your support group or your good friends if you could work on boundaries with them. They will show you their true value in their response to your truth-telling. Either they’ll warmly cheer you on in being able to disagree with and confront them, or they’ll resist you. Either way, you’ll learn something. A good supportive relationship cherishes the no of all parties involved. The members know that true intimacy is only built around the freedom to disagree: “He who conceals his hatred has lying lips” (Proverbs 10:18). Begin practicing your no with people who will honor it and love you for it.

How to Say No: Step 2 – Rejoice in the Guilty Feelings

As strange as it may seem, a sign that you’re becoming a boundaried person is often a sense of self-condemnation, a sense that you’ve transgressed some important rules in your limit setting. Many people experience intense critical self-judgment when they begin telling the truth about what is and isn’t their biblical responsibility. Why is that? Let’s look at the answer in terms of slavery and freedom.

Boundary-injured individuals are slaves. They struggle to make value-based decisions on their own, but they most often reflect the wishes of those around them. And even though they can be surrounded by supportive boundary lovers, they still experience trouble setting limits.

The culprit here is a weak conscience, or an overactive and unbiblically harsh internal judge. Though we need our internal “evaluator” to help us know right from wrong, many people carry around an extremely self-critical — and inaccurate — conscience. They feel that they are transgressing when they aren’t.

Because of this overactive judge, the boundary-injured individual often has great difficulty setting limits. Questions such as, “Aren’t you being too harsh?” and “How can you not attend the party? What a selfish thought!” are raised.

You can imagine the havoc when the struggler actually sets a limit or two, even a small one. The conscience moves into overdrive, as its unrealistic demands are being disobeyed. This rebellion against honest boundaries is a threat to the parental control of the conscience. It attacks the soul with vigor, hoping to beat the person into submitting again to its untruthful do’s and don’ts.

In a funny way, then, activating the hostile conscience is a sign of spiritual growth. A signal that you may be protesting unbiblical restraints. If the conscience were silent and providing no “how could you?” guilt-inducing messages, it might mean that you were remaining enslaved to the internal parent. That’s why we encourage you to rejoice in the guilt. It means you are moving ahead.

How to Say No: Step 3 – Practice Grown-Up No’s

Think for a minute about this question: Who is your number-one “boundary buster”? Who is the foremost person in your life with whom it’s difficult to set limits? More than one person may come to mind. This step deals with those extremely complicated, conflictual, frightening relationships. Straightening out these relationships is a major goal in becoming a boundaried person.

This step underscores the importance of making sure we’ve done our painstaking homework and practice before now. Setting important limits with significant people is the fruit of much work and maturing.

It’s important not to confuse our goals here. Often, Christians who have been boundary injured think that the objective is to set limits on those important areas, and get life stabilized again. They may be living for the day when “I can tell Mom no.” Or when “I can set limits on my husband’s drinking.” While these sorts of confrontations are very important, they aren’t the ultimate target of learning boundaries.

Our real target is maturity — the ability to love successfully and work successfully, the way God does. Boundary setting is a large part of maturing. We can’t really love until we have boundaries. Otherwise, we love out of compliance or guilt. And we can’t really be productive at work without boundaries, or we’re so busy following others’ agendas that we’re double-minded and unstable. The goal is to have a character structure that has boundaries and that can set limits on self and others at the appropriate times.

Hey, this is just the beginning to a major transformation! Learn more about how to say no and really mean it by reading The New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries.

Pooja Parikh Traveled Across The World For The HS Diagnosis That Changed Her Life Forever

God & Man

I’m telling you this as a former “over-giver.” I over-gave myself to people, their needs and wants. I was easily accessible to everyone. I was willing to bend, conform, and give freely of myself so that they others were happy. I was supposed to be readily available to give my time, resources, knowledge, wisdom at everyone’s beck and call. Even in my worst mental state, I was still expected to say yes and give and give. So, I shrunk myself down and was that go-to-girl, the yes girl. I didn’t want to say no to anyone, saying no was mean and selfish, wasn’t it?

Wrong. I had to learn it is okay to be selfish. Being selfish for the right reasons is a form of self-preservation, an act of self-love. You should learn how to set healthy limits and boundaries for people so that you are not easily drained. You deserve to be healthy and full. And saying NO, quickly helped me fill myself up again.

Learning how to put yourself first and tell people no is a process, but with firm kindness and the courage to stand in your decision, it’ll become second nature to you. Yes, you can say no in a respectful way. It’s an essential practice that all adults must master at some point in our lives. We belong to ourselves and in that powerful statement comes the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. Our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our hearts. Saying NO when you don’t want to do something protects all those parts of ourselves that are supposed to be protected. When we don’t protect those parts, when you continuously give up a piece of yourself, even in the moments that you don’t want to, people can sense that they can take advantage. They will continue to take repeatedly. This becomes a vicious cycle. You become drained, bitter, and ultimately anger. Break the cycle by saying NO when someone asks something of you that you do not want to give or do.

When you start saying NO, that is a complete sentence. You don’t back down from it. There is no compromising. People must accept this. Don’t let them guilt-trip you into changing because they will especially close family and friends. You might even feel guilty yourself after setting your boundaries, but guilt will be turned into growth. You’re going to see how people have a new respect for you, how they’ll honor you and ask/demand less of you when you establish that you are putting yourself first always and that can’t be compromised.

Learning To Say No

Do you wish you could put your foot down sometimes and say no? Many of us feel compelled to agree to every request, and would rather juggle a million jobs than refuse to help, even if we are left with no time for ourselves. But learning to say no can earn you respect from yourself as well those around you.

So why do we continue to say yes? It could be that we believe that saying no is uncaring, even selfish, and we may have a fear of letting other people down. On top of this may be a fear of being disliked, criticized, or risking a friendship.

Interestingly, the ability to say no is closely linked to self-confidence. People with low self-confidence and self-esteem often feel nervous about antagonizing others and tend to rate others’ needs more highly than their own.

Perhaps overbearing parents or experiencing parenthood yourself has encouraged this tendency. Women in particular are prone to falling into the trap. You may have been raised to be a “sweetheart” who was always good and took care of the other children. These childhood influences are key to the formation of beliefs such as “I’m only lovable if I’m compliant and helpful.” If you feel you have become a “people-pleaser,” your self-worth may have come to depend on the things you do for other people. A vicious circle develops in which the people around you expect you to be there for them all the time and comply with their wishes.

Being unable to say no can make you exhausted, stressed and irritable. It could be undermining any efforts you make to improve your quality of life if you spend hours worrying over how to get out of an already-promised commitment. If your spare time is taken up with committee meetings and myriad other engagements, your family may be suffering.

Don’t wait until your energy runs out before you take a much needed step back to assess the situation.

Top Tips for Saying No

  • Keep your response simple. If you want to say no, be firm and direct. Use phrases such as “Thanks for coming to me but I’m afraid it’s not convenient right now” or “I’m sorry but I can’t help this evening.” Try to be strong in your body language and don’t over-apologize. Remember, you’re not asking permission to say no.
  • Buy yourself some time. Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle, using phrases like “I’ll get back to you,” then consider your options. Having thought it through at your leisure, you’ll be able to say no with greater confidence.
  • Consider a compromise. Only do so if you want to agree with the request, but have limited time or ability to do so. Suggest ways forward to suit both of you. Avoid compromising if you really want or need to say no.
  • Separate refusal from rejection. Remember you’re turning down a request, not a person. People usually will understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask the favor.
  • Don’t feel guilty for saying no to your children. It is important for them to hear no from time to time so that they develop a sense of self-control. It is hard to negotiate adult life without this important skill. Rather than cave in to their protests, let them know who is in charge by setting boundaries.
  • Be true to yourself. Be clear and honest with yourself about what you truly want. Get to know yourself better and examine what you really want from life.

Reference and other resources

Just Say No

Learn To Say No

Mayo Clinic article on stress relief from saying no

About.com article on how to say no

Learning To Say No

You, with your switching sides,
And your walk by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again,
As if I don’t already see them.
I walk with my head down,
Trying to block you out cause I’ll never impress you….

—Taylor Swift, “Mean”

“Why you gotta be so meeaann?” Taylor Swift croons in my car, accompanied rather loudly by five kids who are singing their hearts out. The song resonates with me, too, so much so that I find myself madly rummaging through my purse for my sunglasses, not wanting the carpool to see me choked up.

(Honestly, I’m not sure why I cry when I hear that song. I think I’m moved because it tells of a kid succeeding despite difficulty. If you haven’t heard it, listen here. I particularly like the end of this version.)

Anyway, one of the girls in my car (let’s call her Sally) has just revealed that she was once again the butt of a mean comment in PE. Everyone in the car feels her pain; unfortunately we’ve all been there.

Most of us use avoidance as our chief strategy for dealing with unkindness, steering clear of the mean person at all costs. But this strategy is neither practical nor effective, as it is often impossible to avoid a person completely and usually leaves us cowering in fear.

Fortunately, there is a better approach. From research on social and emotional well-being, here’s what I’ve learned about how to cope when someone gets nasty.

First, remember that you can control your response when someone does or says something mean. We may not be able to control much about our life circumstances, but with practice we can control how we respond to those circumstances.

I once got a horrible voicemail from a neighbor. In it, she called me a fraud and my blog a joke, and told me to stay away from her children. Though she seemed high-functioning to the outside world, she seemed pretty unstable to me.

My instinct was to fight back—to expose her craziness to the world, to tell everyone how insanely mean she was.

Sally had the opposite instinct around the girl who teased her in PE. She let this particular mean girl boss her around, hoping against hope that she would eventually relent.

Neither of these responses—attacking back or becoming a spineless doormat—are constructive ways to cope. The most effective response to meanness is compassion. Where there is meanness, there is often a lot of pain, both in the unkind person and for the person on the receiving end of a mean joke, comment, or email.

Take care of your own pain first. When I got the crazy-neighbor voicemail, I was shocked, and hurt (I cared what she thought of me), and, frankly, scared. Researcher Brene Brown, in her fantastic book Daring Greatly, advocates a response to a situation like this that I’ve been using instinctively since I was a kid: Before you attack back, let yourself feel what is going on. You can simply repeat to yourself, “Pain, pain, pain,” and breathe. Sometimes I have to say it out loud.

The key is not to deny what we are feeling, but rather to accept it. Take a moment to be mindful and narrate your emotions: This embarrassment is excruciating. I am so frightened right now. Hang in there with unpleasant feelings at least long enough to acknowledge them.

Often we don’t want to admit we are hurt by another person’s meanness; we want to let it go without letting it get to us. If you can do this, more power to you. But if you can’t, that’s okay, too. You will survive the discomfort of your hurt feelings. It is perfectly normal to feel bad when someone wounds you.

Once you practice this sort of self-compassion, take the next step: See mean people for what they really are—wounded and tiny and probably threatened. Frightened mice masquerading as roaring lions. When I suggested to Sally that her unkind classmate was probably insecure or threatened by her, Sally insisted that just the opposite was true. “She’s the most confident person I know!” The other kids in the car agreed.

But then I had them recall the last time each of them was a little mean to a classmate or sibling. How did you feel right before you did it? The unanimous answer: They felt small, or frustrated, or humiliated, so they did something that might make them feel big or important or powerful. We began to imagine what might have made Sally’s mean-girl feel threatened or small, and the kids came up with a dozen possibilities.

Finally, fight fire with water by sending loving thoughts to the people who hurt you. This is an advanced technique, but I can almost promise that it will make you feel better. I use a traditional loving-kindness meditation, and say things like “May you be happy. May you be healthy and strong. May you be free from suffering” while imagining the person who tried to hurt me.

When we send well-wishes to the hurting people who want us to share their pain, we are able to rise above their suffering. We regain our true power.

After all, it is only when mean people actually are happy and free from suffering that they will stop trying to take us down with them.

© 2013 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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6 Reasons Nice People Say Hurtful Things

Source: PathDoc/

The internet has recently seen an explosion of “Things You Should Never Say” articles, many of which pertain to interactions with people who are suffering. To some, these articles may seem overly sensitive or demanding: How are you supposed to keep track of all these things you’re not supposed to say? What’s the point of even trying to support someone when you’ll inevitably say the “wrong” thing?

While this attitude is understandable, it misses what may be a more important question: Why are insensitive comments so common, even among well-meaning people?

First, consider what makes a comment insensitive at all. Comments that minimize or invalidate a person’s lived experience and the reality of their situation are especially likely to be hurtful. For example, as Sheryl Sandberg said in a Facebook post marking the end of sheloshim, a 30-day period of mourning, losing her husband made her understand how well-meaning comments like “It’s going to be okay” can be painful, after just experiencing a devastating loss or terminal diagnosis. “Real empathy,” she says, “is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay, but acknowledging that it is not.”

Another way that well-meaning comments can be hurtful is when they implicitly hold people responsible for things beyond their control. For example, telling a depressed person that depression is a choice and they should “snap out of it” can imply that they are to blame for their depression. Or as Barbara Ehrenreich has pointed out, telling someone with advanced cancer that if they just maintain a positive attitude they will beat it can imply that a poor attitude is to blame if their condition does not improve.

Here are 6 possible reasons why well-meaning people make insensitive comments:

  1. They haven’t been there. When someone hasn’t experienced major hardship themselves (or hasn’t experienced the specific kind of hardship that the person they are speaking with has experienced), it can be harder for them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. As Sandberg notes, before her husband’s death, she “never really knew what to say to others in need.” Research suggests that empathy for physical pain is increased by prior similar experience. Among females, prior exposure to an upsetting life experience is associated with great empathy for someone going through a related experience.
  2. They have been there, but they’re beyond it now. Although shared experience can facilitate empathy, there are circumstances under which it may have the opposite effect. One series of studies found that people who had successfully overcome a distressing event (e.g., bullying), compared to those who were currently enduring it or who had no experience with it, were more harsh in evaluating those who had failed to overcome the event. In hindsight, they apparently viewed the event as easier to overcome.
  3. They don’t want to imagine being there. Even if someone cannot directly relate to another person’s hardship, can they at least try to imagine what it is like? Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Empathy can be painful, which motivates some to avoid entering into the situation. Feeling overwhelmed by personal distress due to someone else’s suffering can reduce compassion; people become more concerned with trying to reduce their own distress than trying to support the other person. This may lead people to make comments that minimize the seriousness of a scary situation.
  4. They want to make the problem go away. While there is nothing wrong with offering suggestions and advice, some problems don’t have simple solutions—or any solutions. People may just want to feel cared about and understood, not fixed. But support-givers are often drawn to problem-solving because it makes them feel helpful, or perhaps helps them avoid the discomfort of acknowledging the painful reality of someone’s situation.
  5. They don’t want to feel vulnerable. As I discuss in other posts, it is upsetting when bad things happen to good people. Many individuals may try to avoid this thought by convincing themselves that victims must in some way be responsible for their misfortune. This attribution is a double-edged sword: It helps people feel less personally vulnerable, but it can also make them less compassionate.
  6. They’re just saying what they think they’re supposed to say. Often well-meaning people say hurtful things because they’re at a loss for words. Not knowing the right thing to say, they may turn to canned statements, like “don’t worry about it” or “you’ll be fine”—the kinds of statements that tend to be least helpful in difficult times.

If you are suffering, sometimes well-meaning people will make offensive comments. Understanding why they do so can reduce their sting. Usually, it’s more about them (and their own fears and insecurities) than about you. No one wants to see the people they care about suffer, and this experience doesn’t always bring out the best in them.

But when people genuinely want to help, sometimes they just need a gentle nudge in the right direction, like “I would love to believe that everything will be okay, but the truth is there’s a lot of uncertainty right now” or “I really appreciate your advice, but right now I just need a hug.” Don’t be afraid to educate people on issues that they seem ignorant about, such as the biological basis of medical conditions or the fact that grief doesn’t have an expiration date.

As a well-meaning person, what can you do to become more sensitive in these kinds of interactions, without having to memorize a long list of “don’ts”? One thing that can help is to recognize that your assumptions about what someone is going through, why they’re going through it, and what they need may not be accurate. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask questions and be honest about what you don’t know or don’t understand.

And if you do say something hurtful and it gets brought to your attention, try to be open to that feedback rather than becoming defensive—saying the “wrong” thing once in a while doesn’t make you a bad person; we have all been guilty of that.

What to say to mean people?

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