This chapter is about how to deal with a nasty person, not an angry person.
Some writers of self-help books suggest we walk away when someone is being nasty. That is a good idea, expecially if it’s a regular occurrence, or if you think the person might become physically aggressive. However, if it is a ‘one-off’ event, and if you think you might be able to cope with their nastiness, consider staying. It could be a good opportunity to practise being assertive.
1. Pause before you respond. That allows you to calm yourself and collect your thoughts. While pausing:
(i) Label it. Tell yourself, ‘This person is ranting.’ or ‘This person is being nasty and vindictive’. Labelling the situation makes it clearer, and you calmer.
(ii) Ask yourself questions:
‘Is this person trying to hurt my feelings, or do they have problem elsewhere and are venting on me?’
‘Does this person fear something?’
‘What is this person actually trying to tell me?
‘What is their underlying message?’
‘Your co-worker is rude to you. Your initial reaction might be anger or feeling offended, because you’re holding onto an ideal of how people should treat you. The anger will only make the situation worse, though, and you’ll be angry and unhappy. So you practice putting aside the ideal and anger, and instead try to see the suffering the co-worker must be going through in order to act this way. Either he’s suffering especially today and lashing out at you (he’s not handling his problems well) or he does this habitually which means he’s suffering throughout his life. You can empathize with suffering, as you do it yourself, and you’ve also lashed out at people before so you know that’s a very human mistake. Seeing this suffering, empathizing with it, you can respond appropriately, seeing if you can ease the suffering. Later, when he’s calmed down, you can try expressing in a compassionate way that you felt you were treated rudely and try to work with him to find a better way for you both to express your frustrations.’
From the article, ‘Letting Go’from the ‘Zen Habits’site, by Leo Babauta.
Your response will depend on your answers to the questions, but you can still stick up for yourself. In a low, calm voice say something like,‘Speak to me with courtesy.’ Or tell the person, ‘I’m not interested in what you have to say,’and walk away.
If the person begins to speak to you courteously, it means they want you to address their concerns. Calmly do so.
3. Later, you might conclude you could have performed even better. That’s understandable, because dealing with nasty people takes practise. Congratulate yourself on what you did right. For what you didn’t get right, shrug and move on.
If in future the person continues to be nasty towards you, and you no longer want to practise being assertive, walking away is a good strategy.