Take the Sting Out: 3 Strategies for Coping with the Unkind, the Passive Aggressive and the Overtly Hostile

Bizz Buzz—spring is in the air. And while this brings out the honey in many of us, there are those among us who are still apt to sting. With this in mind, I thought I’d send along a few strategies for coping with passive aggressiveness, condescension and outright hostility.

Of course, my first recommendation is: do and say nothing in the moment. This is incredibly difficult. For starters, it’s not always feasible. In addition, it requires a level of self-control many of us do not possess. Given that, my next note is—if at all possible– remove yourself from the situation. If you’re on the telephone, simply say, “I’m going to have to call you back.” If you’re in a meeting, and it’s possible to step out for a moment, do so. If this isn’t possible, ask for the time you need. You can do this by saying, “I want to be sure I’m responding—not reacting—and right now I can’t guarantee that. Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda while I think through my response.”

Please note, there’s no apology in that sentence. Asking for the time to formulate a considered response necessitates no apology. Articulating that you wish to ensure you respond, rather than react, will hopefully remind everyone involved that they, too, need to take it down a notch.

If someone’s ugly comment is not within the context of a work-related debate, but just a one-off remark from a person with whom you don’t need to engage further, I’m a big fan of the phrase, “Let me think about that.”

The beauty of “Let me think about that,” is that it’s just enough of a response to allow your vitriolic verbal companion to feel they’ve been taken seriously, but it doesn’t commit you to any particular ideology or course of action. 

Should you find yourself in a situation where you’re being actively goaded to say something hostile– either by someone who is angry with you, or by someone seeking to provoke you by repeating an unkindness or untruth spoken by someone else– my suggested fallback is, “I appreciate the opportunity to comment, but I’m not going to RSVP,” a one-liner that deflects and defuses the tension without leaving you open to further commentary.

Frances Coles Jones