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How to Deal With Mean People the Smart Way

Not everyone you meet in life will be on their best behavior. Whether they’re just having a bad day or are inherently grumpy, mean people are everywhere. However, you don’t need to reciprocate their rudeness.

People who work in retail and service industries know how difficult this forbearance can be. Being kind to mean people has never been easy, but it will get you much further in life than stooping down to their level.

Do you want to know how to deal with the most difficult people and customers around? You’re not alone. This guide will help you handle mean people the smart way.

Preparing for Confrontations

While coping with mean people is difficult, there are ways you can prepare for nasty confrontations so you can manage them more quickly and peacefully.

Start by taking the following steps:

1. Begin With a Foundation of Self-Care

To best manage your interactions with mean people, start by taking care of yourself. If you’re in a healthy mental and emotional state, you’ll be better equipped to relate to people lacking in those areas. If you’re not prepared, they’ll walk all over you.

Look for ways to strengthen your self-esteem and self-worth. If you make self-affirmation a regular practice, the insults of an angry person will be less likely to get under your skin.

Getting good rest and exercise will likewise improve your quality of life and your mood. Work on gaining that positive outlook, and the mean people of the world won’t throw you off your game as easily.

2. Take a Deep Breath

If you can tell you’re in for a long and challenging interaction, take a deep breath. This simple action can slow your heart rate and calm you down enough to approach the situation with composure.

Breathing exercises are an effective way to reduce anxiety. You might well feel anxious when interacting with someone who is being unkind or irrational, so use this technique to keep your cool.

3. Learn How to Empathize

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes to try to understand how they feel. Unfortunately rare in today’s world, empathy is a powerful attribute and critical to defusing tense situations.

Oftentimes, mean people may be reacting to outside situations that you have no knowledge of. While such people certainly aren’t fun to deal with, they could be facing their own problems that outweigh the present situation.

Acknowledge their frustration and ask what you can do to help. When you approach people with empathy, you will reduce their hostility. You might even get to the root of what’s really bothering them.

4. Practice Problem-Solving

While some people are mean just for the fun of it, more often than not, they’re simply expressing their frustration about a certain problem. Providing the solution is the quickest way to turn off the meanness.

Flex your problem-solving muscles, and you’ll be well-equipped to cope with the difficult people you encounter. Consider the problems that arise in your workplace and how you’d go about resolving them. Speed and accuracy in providing solutions will turn a mean person into a grateful one.

5. Actively Engage With Mean People

This tip may sound counterintuitive. There are plenty of scenarios in which you’ll want to avoid mean people, such as obvious bullies, if possible.[1]

I’m not suggesting you go out of your way to find mean people to converse with. However, don’t shy away from situations where you can learn and grow from your interactions with less-than-pleasant individuals.

Avoiding all of the difficult customers won’t help you improve your communication, problem-solving, or customer service skills. The more experience you have with your fellow human beings, the better you can respond in tough situations.

6. Don’t Be the Mean Person

Are you the mean person mentioned in these hypothetical scenarios? It’s possible—in fact, an entire internet community has sprung up to ask this very question.[2]

There are times when you might be the mean person without realizing it. When you’re in the middle of a contentious conversation, it can be hard to pause for self-examination. But that’s exactly what you need to do.

Did you give a snarky response? Roll your eyes? If so, apologize. It will de-escalate the situation and help you regain a problem-solving perspective.

Mean people don’t mix well—their anger will bounce off of each other until it is out of control. When you stop being the mean person yourself, you’ll be able to deal with difficult people in a smarter way.

Handling Mean People in Practice

Preparation is half the battle. The second half is managing the confrontation itself.

No matter how well you’ve prepped for tense moments, you need to be able to conduct yourself with poise and professionalism when they arrive.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Start off on the Right Foot

The first few seconds of an interaction really set the tone for the encounter. Be as warm and open as possible when interacting with mean people. Triggering them even further will do you no good.

Starting off on the right foot takes patience and self-discipline. That’s why preparing yourself for these confrontations is so important. If you can’t keep a level head, you’ll only make a bad situation worse.

2. Pay Attention to Your Body Language

Body language can say just as much as your words, if not more. Mean people can feed off of negative body language, such as slumped shoulders or folded arms. It shows them that they have power in the situation and encourages them to keep at it.

When dealing with rude customers or mean people in general, think about what your body language is telling them. Make eye contact, stand up straight, and maintain an appropriate physical distance. Projecting friendly confidence will make a huge difference in the interaction.

3. Follow the Golden Rule

Empathy is an internal attribute. The Golden Rule—“do unto others as you would have them do to you”—is what puts empathy into action.[3]

Following this ethical principle will help you take the best course of action in all confrontations. The Golden Rule guides you to act fairly at all times in the hope that the recipient of your good-natured behavior will reciprocate.

4. Avoid Retaliation

Responding to meanness with nastiness of your own will only escalate the situation. You can’t put out a fire with gasoline.

When someone confronts you, respond with kindness, even when every fiber of your being wants to retaliate. The calmer you act, the more easily you can defuse the situation and put it behind you both.

5. Practice Listening

Listening is a nearly lost art. Too many people interrupt each other or simply wait for their turn to start talking. Genuinely listening to the person you’re communicating with requires so much more than that.

Listen intently to what mean people have to say. Reflect on their words before formulating a response. Taking the time to listen and respond thoughtfully will provide better results than just saying the first thing that pops into your head.

6. Speak Clearly and Carefully

In the heat of the moment, people will pounce on every word you say. They’ll look for ways to twist your words and use them against you. If you speak calmly and accurately, there will be nothing for angry people to use as ammunition.

Practice speaking clearly in every situation. Whether it’s explaining a company policy or pleading your case to a friend who feels wronged, speaking plainly will prevent a bad situation from getting any worse. It might even calm someone down who’s feeling angry or upset.

7. Get Someone Else Involved

The buddy system does wonders for unpleasant situations. It’s always nice to have someone on hand to help you say and do the right things and defend you when people start getting nasty.

Whether it’s a manager, a friend, or a trusted colleague, having someone else by your side will make mean people think twice about their grievances. The point isn’t to intimidate them but to encourage them to think more rationally by showing them another person’s point of view. When they no longer see you personally as the source of their problem, they will likely calm down

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