March 21

Regaining My Footing

In a work setting recently someone said something really insulting to me in front of a group of people. This doesn’t happen very often, fortunately, but because it was work-related and I was trying to harness all of my patience and judgement, I felt pressured to react calmly, professionally and in a manner that would put others at ease. When someone says something REALLY out of line, I never see it coming and it knocks me off-balance a bit psychologically. I always need a bit to time to process what happened and try to understand why someone said something inappropriate. Did I provoke it? In this case it was a stranger and I had just walked into the room. Sometimes I wish I could push the pause button before I needed to react to give me a moment to collect my thoughts.

Not having that luxury, I took a deep breath and decided in that moment to ignore in my response, the sting that hurt so much and try to be upbeat and matter-of-fact in my response. Because here’s what I’ve figured out over time: if someone is a jerk to me and I’m don’t respond like a jerk back to them, I leave the conversation feeling as though I didn’t lose sight of the person I aim to be. If I take the bait though, verbally rolling around in the mud and being rude back, I will always feel worse about my handling of it. I’ve read many responses by advice columnists on how to handle rude comments or questions. “Why do you ask?” is a good response to questions about weight, money, age, and other personal matters. If it’s a comment from a stranger in a non-work environment, sometimes I let it just hang in the air and refuse to acknowledge it. It’s surprisingly effective. With work-related rudeness I have decided that pretending that there’s been a misunderstanding often dissolves the tension so the conversation doesn’t escalate into a verbal insult-fest; “Oh perhaps I wasn’t clear…” or “Oh please allow me to explain another point of view because I think there’s been a misunderstanding.” Perhaps the best antidote to rude behavior is being kind to a stranger. A nice conversation with the person who hands me my Frappacino at Starbucks or a generous tip for a cheerful and competent waiter helps me regain my footing and remember the person I aim to be.