a bunch of nice people and a bitch eating crackers
July 9, 2018 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Please give me your strategies for dealing with that one horrible person in a group of otherwise lovely people, especially when they're being horrible to someone else.

I would like advice from people on how to respond helpfully to interpersonal situations involving a person that you very strongly do not like. I'm aware of tactics for lowering fight response in asynchronous contexts like going for a walk, and in synchronous contexts like counting to three or breathing deeply before responding, but there are some people for whom the dislike is so strong that these methods aren't effective. Do you employ some better tactic, or do you find it's best to just excuse oneself from such situations?

"De-escalation" feels like a larger-stakes thing than what I'm talking about -- I mean something more like "respond in a way that doesn't escalate, even though I would rather turn this person into a toad".

I'm most interested in advice that is applicable to situations where there are other people involved beyond the disliked person, as I'm fortunate to be able to avoid most disliked people in one-on-one situations. I am fine with the way I respond on my own behalf in situations that involve such people, but I would like to improve my ability to correctly handle situations where someone is behaving in a bad way to other people in the group.

I am interested in advice that addresses this for both online and offline communication.
posted by yomimono to Human Relations (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Rather than respond to the nasty behaviour of the person you dislike, immediately say something nice to the person you feel the creep is targeting. It serves to show the creep that no-one is interested in their creepiness, gives a boost to the person who has been put down, and steers the conversation into a new more positive direction.

Creep: makes creepy comment to Sally
You: Hey Sally I hear you got promoted recently, that is great you totally deserve it. How are you liking the new position?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:53 PM on July 9, 2018 [26 favorites]

Why wouldn't you want to escalate? I think we need more information here.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:18 PM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Call people out. "Why would you think that's an ok thing to say?"
posted by DarlingBri at 10:40 PM on July 9, 2018 [23 favorites]

If you want to confront them, do that. If they are toxic and if they pose any kind of actual danger to the group, have a conversation with your friends about how to deal with that. Until then, if your goal is not to eacalate, quietly go about elbowing them out socially. Initiate a pleasant, positive conversation with the person they are being horrible to and slowly but firmly edge the horrible person out of the social encounter. People like this thrive on attention— negative attention is only a little bit less rewarding than positive —so jump your way into that conversation, change the subject, and start to actively ignore them.

Give them rote “uh huh,” “yeah” or “mmm” responses, and if they say something especially egregious just don’t respond to it at all, not in a cut direct way, just pleasantly pretend it never happened. Don’t verbally engage with anything they say other than these brief acknowledgments that you did hear something, and start tapering those off from 1 to 1 responses to one to every five or so. Imagine that they are drunk or high or in a blackout, and that nothing that comes out of their mouth is worthwhile, and that they probably won’t remember the interaction anyway— like they aren’t really even there. Make minimal eye contact if any, and then taper it off. They are too boring to look at. Keep them in your peripheral vision and don’t turn your back on them, but don’t face them directly. Your goal here is to basically make them feel like an uninteresting nothing person who is incapable of holding your attention. This is often much worse for people like this and then being confronted or yelled at, so keep it up until they leave you, and whoever they’re bullying, alone.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:32 PM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

or do you find it's best to just excuse oneself from such situations?

I'm a choose-your-fights type. I strongly encourage you to do everything in your power to neutralize the negativity that this person brings to situations you find yourself in ... if you really think it's up to you.
posted by philip-random at 12:15 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can you talk to the disliked person separately from the group?

For example, if they have behaved badly toward someone in a group setting, can you catch up with them afterwards, one-on-one, and say something like "hey, I felt like what happened back there with you and [person] didn't seem like a very nice exchange. Is there something going on you want to talk about? Are you upset about something?".

Confronting them in front of the group may work, and may well be worth a try. But it may also make them instantly defensive and sort of worse. Sometimes calling people out quietly and privately gives them a chance to consider things and make amends without losing significant face.
posted by greenish at 2:41 AM on July 10, 2018

Raise eyebrow. Quiet look.

"Wow, you said that out loud."
posted by jointhedance at 7:37 AM on July 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think this really depends whether the person has some anti-social tendencies or things that are actively negative towards other members of the group (being sexist/racist/homophobic) or whether they're just a garden-variety jerk who one person doesn't click with for whatever reason or maybe some negative history. I have a few people in my larger social group who sort of bug me. But they're generally nice people. I just think they bring the drama but not in a way that I think is otherwise an issue, just in a way that rubs me the wrong way. If I feel like they're sucking all the air out of the room by turning everything into some sort of conflict situation (and focusing attention on themselves) I'll often say something like "Hey I thought we were having a nice time here..." not because I think I am the tone police but because I think it's worth reminding everyone that this is a social situation where the object is to be social.

Now, this is different if you're trapped with them at work or in some other situation. And yes, if it's directed towards others I'll be more likely to step in with something like "Hey knock it off" though I agree with greeenish that helping people save face can be important. Some of it is feeling your own authority in a situation to try to make it less disagreeable. And to do that you need to be able to assess the relative impact of this person just being them (often I am surprised that other people mind people's acting out more than they mind some sort of overt acknowledgement of it) versus making some sort of statement. But just make it clear, you're not going to fight about something but neither are you going to sit around while someone behaves poorly.
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 AM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you should definitely say something because if nasty comments go ignored, the person it was directed to may feel like everybody else also thinks that. And it makes the perpetrator think that it's acceptable. Call them out. Ugh
posted by poppunkcat at 6:19 AM on July 14, 2018

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