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How to Handle Put-Downs: The DO’s and DON’Ts

So, what is the best way of dealing with put-downs (i.e., insults)? Here are the things to do – and the things to avoid:

DO REFLECT ON THE PERSON’S MOTIVES: Was the insult even intended to be a put-down, or was it a tongue-in-cheek comment meant to be taken lightly? The context can often help us determine whether an insulting statement is mean-spirited or just candid. Figuring out the person’s reasoning behind the comment will help guide our response.

DO REFLECT TO SEE IF THERE IS SOME TRUTH TO THE INSULT: Sometimes you may feel insulted by someone’s remark because there is some truth to it. When we feel a slight sting because of a person’s criticism, rather than taking it personally, we can choose to use the statement as constructive criticism. If the issue is something that we truly want to get better at, then we can pull the person aside and ask for ideas on how to improve.

DO TALK TO THE PERSON ONE-ON-ONE, IF NEEDED: If our feelings are truly hurt and we want to address the put-down, we can ask the individual (immediately or sometime later) if we could speak with him or her in private. Pulling the person aside shows some consideration (as opposed to calling him or her out in public). We can calmly tell the individual that we found his or her remarks to be insulting and that we would like them show some respect – and that we will return that respect.

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DON’T SHOW ANGER: Getting angry shows that you take the insult, and therefore the insulter, seriously. It also suggests that there may be some truth to the put-down.

DON’T RETURN THE PUT-DOWN: Returning the insult, no matter how clever or well-timed, tends to equalize you with your insulter, raising him or her up to your level and bringing you down to his/hers. This gives the insulter too much believability.

DON’T BE CRITICAL OF YOURSELF AFTER BEING HURT BY A PUT-DOWN: Examples include “I shouldn’t let her get under my skin” or “Why can’t I stand up for myself better” or “Why am I being such a pussy about this?”

You need never take offense at a put-down. Put-downs exist not in the actual remarks made by the insulter, but in your reaction to it – and your reactions are completely within your control. It’s unreasonable to expect a rude loudmouth to be anything but a rude loudmouth. If you take offense at his or her boorish behavior, you have only yourself to blame.

Don’t give that person any of your energy. When you mostly ignore his or her comment – or better yet, laugh at it – you send the message that you don’t take that person seriously, and you’re not remotely affected by his or her opinion of you.


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