Thursday, January 31, 2008

Reader Question: Dealing With An Obnoxious Acquaintance

Hi Meg,

I need some help with a difficult acquaintance of mine. I have known her for the last two years through a sports club and have never really been on the best of terms with her. She is unbearably rude, loud and arrogant. She frequently chooses not to talk to some of the club members because they speak to someone who happened to point out her behaviour to her more than three years ago. My main problem is that when the entire sports club gets together, she basically ignores half the group, gives them cold looks or even goes so far as to make nasty comments about some of the people in the room, passing it all off a joke.

Unfortunately, there is no way to not invite her to these events as she is a club member and a girlfriend of a club member. At the club's New Year's Party, I was organising a game of Twister and asked some of the people at the party if they would like to join us. She rolled her eyes, sighed and commented: "Would someone giver her some f*cking vodka to shut her up?" to the entire room.
Unfortunately, the club has organised an event for the weekend which both she and I will be attending. I was wondering if you could give me some advice to deal with her rudeness. Should I politely ask her to stop being so rude, or should I just ignore it? One of my friends told me to start retorting to her comments about people when she makes them but I really don't want to be rude in return. Any advice you could give me would be appreciated.


Wow, this woman sounds like a real nightmare!

I think you have a few options in addressing the situation, though I'm sorry to say that I think you should keep your expectations low and not expect her to change her abysmal behavior.

It's inevitable that she'll make another rude or inappropriate remark at some point during the weekend and I think that taking her aside and politely saying that you didn't like what she said, that it hurt your feelings or made you uncomfortable, etc. There's a small chance that she is totally oblivious to how others perceive her comments and has positive intentions. I've had experience with people who say rude things or publicly put down others out of insecurity and a desire to seem funny or powerful, and this may be her problem.

Unfortunately, she's probably just an obnoxious person who doesn't care at all what you or other people think of her. While ignoring her is frustrating, I don't think she would respond well to being confronted in front of others, as your friend suggested. I think you're right that it's wrong to meet rudeness with rudeness and the situation could quickly spiral out of control. In my experience dealing with people like this, you just have to come to terms with the fact that you can never change them, and just hope that they realize the error of their ways on their own. If she doesn't like most of the people in the club (and it doesn't sound like they like her either), hopefully she'll drop out on her own.

Does anyone else have advice for Diana?


Diana said...

I would try to "kill her with kindness". Personally, it's hard for me to be super nice to someone who makes life so incredibly frustrating, but the times that I have succeeded have been very rewarding. They tend to hit the person completely off guard, either with no retort or more pathetic, demeaning banter. Regardless of the person's response, my own positive attitude leaves me feeling better and much the bigger person.

This may cause her to feel bad, unless she is a sociopath without the capability of feeling empathy. And that may very well be the case. Either way, good on you if you can stay positive.

By the way, lovely name!

Sfinga said...

I agree with the previous commenter - totally. And - I entered the comments section, wanting to give advice to just laugh at/off the obnoxious character, publicly, which would probably - if she has a modicum of social awareness - stop her behaving like that to preserve some dignity for herself. I do not mean responding snidely, just in a genuinely amused manner. Or as above which is a good way, too.

Sarah said...

Killing people with kindness is one of the best ways to deal with a situation like this because it totally confuses the rude/obnoxious person, which is incredibly satisfying. This way, you get to feel like you're getting revenge, but instead you're just being super polite and considerate. And once this person no longer sees you as a threat (which is probably what's going on and she's trying to be on the offensive), she'll soften up. I've used the technique many a time and it is just brilliant.

Katja of said...

Aww, I couldn't agree more. I use the "killing with kindness" often, and many times these people who have been very rude to me to begin with start being biggests I would almost say "fans" of me - they are somewhat impressed that they get the kind response.

Ultimately I think many people who are rude just have a low self esteem and they are trying to bring other people down by being rude and mean. being nice to them will even "scare" them - it shows how good slef esteem you have.

Ps. I tagged you to write about yourself!

Sara said...

Killing someone with kindness is a good idea. But exactly how do you do it?

When someone says "Shut her up with some vodka!" Say, "I would like some vodka :) Thank you." and giggle at their joke. You can even go on with your previous actions after your little kind statement and say, "Well if there is anyone who would like to play twister, I am still game!"

Just keep positive and laugh with her. Joy is contagious.

If she won't talk to someone because they just talked to HE WHO MAY NOT BE NAMED!!1 Ask her sadly and sincerely, "Would you stop talking to me if I talked to the wrong person? Because I want to get along with everyone in our club."

If all else fails, be sure to be seen talking to HE WHO MAY NOT BE NAMED!!1 as often as possible so she will give you the cold shoulder too, then you won't have to deal with listening to her slander anymore.

Kai Jones said...

I have a different suggestion, because to me this woman sounds like a bully. She's attempting to control others through her remarks, and that is a form of verbal bullying.

I recommend an excellent book: The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense, by Suzette Haden Elgin. She's a linguist; the book has sample conversations and practice exercises. I wish I'd had it when my sons were younger, they were bullied in grade school and this book has better strategies than "just ignore them, they're doing it because they want attention."

Anonymous said...

Be aware that killing with kindness may reinforce the bad behavior. I have done this. It can make you look weak in the bully's eyes and they continue their behavior--and become even more disrespectful of you. Plus you can get resentful that the person continues to treat you so badly and become passive aggressive yourself.

This is less than honest.

At the very least, let yourself appear SHOCKED AND HORRIFIED that someone has actually spoken to you in that manner. You might even ask the person (in a shocked voice): WHAT did you say??!! (Making her repeat what she said.

I strongly suggest the fabulous book called: "Take The Bully By the Horns" by Sam Horn. This is an excellent study of bullies and how to stop them from ruining your life.

Here are some reference notes I took from that book for myself:

Try these Verbal Responses: Focus Word: “YOU”

“What Did You Say?”

“What Did You Just Say to Me?”

“What Do You Mean By That?”

“Don’t Even Start.”

“Keep Those Kind Of Remarks To Yourself.”

“Speak To Me With Respect From Now On.”

“Back Up And Give Me Some Room Here.”

“No, You’ll Have To Get That From Someone Else.”

“You Can’t Mean That.”

“What Makes You Think That I Want To Listen To That?”

“You Might Want To Reconsider That. It Doesn’t Reflect Well On You.”

“You Need To Apologize For Being Late.”

“You’ll Get My Answer In The Morning.” (put off decision)

Say ‘NO’ instead of ‘YES’  This builds self worth.

‘That’s Enough.’

“Why Do You Do This? Does It Feel Good To Make Other People Feel Bad? Do You Get A Cheap Thrill From It?”

Act Unpredictably. “Look Me In The Eye And Apologize Right Now.”

“You Are Not Going To Draw Me Into This.”

Monologue? ‘Enough Of That –It’s My Turn’

“Are You Actually Yelling At Me?” (matter-of-factly)

STAND UP To Answer Abuse. Get Erect—“Cape Wearing Posture”. Pretend I’m a Tower Of Power!

Stand Up, Puff Up, Pull Myself Up Full Height. Eyes Open And Locked On. ‘Don’t Mess With Me’ Attitude. Show Courage.

Dealing with this woman now will help you in the future to nip bullying behavior in the bud!

Every best wish to you!!

I love your blog and visit every day! I'm old enough to be your mom!!


cate said...

although i think that carla's suggestions are empowering, i also think that she would probably be embarrassed to say some of them in front of a group of people. moreover, i would guess it would draw this woman into a verbal sparring match, which you don't want.she's obviously used to being able to say whatever she wants with no consequence, and that needs to stop now. although i think that killing someone with kindness is usually a great idea, here, i think that it will definitely reinforce her behavior. this woman sounds like a boor.

i think a very gentle, "there's no need to speak to me or anyone that way." and then a swift change of subject will bring this bully right round. she'll be taken off guard by your clear and simple statement, and won't be able to reply since a) there really is no reply she could make, and b) you'll have changed the subject.

good luck.

loose cannon said...

I PREFER TO HIT THE BLIND SIDE! I beleave that everyone is correct but she says things it seem, generaly under breath or just loud enought that the people around her to hear.she may even say out loud when she fells she has people around that would agree with her. she belives in her mind the people are her cronies at the time, that dont speak up to her when she says these things. Almost like some one says a off color joke and the people around may not approve of it but just giggle or HA! HA! it. Thats the same as agreing to the joke instead of speaking up disagreing with her. So it seems that since no one wants to confront her, I suggest that a anonymous letter be sent on a polite basis[or not so] pointing out her faults and how she might change her ways, plus tell her the next letter will be by someone else that holds the same view of her and it wont be so polite and it will continue till she gets the point or she leaves.or just wait in the dark part of the parking lot one night and------

Anonymous said...

I don't think killing her with kindness is the answer because I think she is so obtuse as to interpret the kindness as tacit agreement to act the way she does. I mean she is still invited to club gatherings and apparently isn't explicitly ostracized despite being horrendously rude so it is almost as if she is just fine acting like the world's biggest witch with a capital B.

I like the responses to bullying because I have found that they work, especially on people who are accustomed to the under-the-breath, super-nasty asides. For instance, in the Twister episode, I probably would have said something along the lines of "Excuse me?! Do you really need to get this nasty over being invited to play Twister?" with a serious but honestly curious tone that demands an answer.

If I couldn't bring up the courage to say one of those lines then I think I might just go with the all-purpose "Wow" and the head-shake and leave it at that.

And finally, I would not associate with this woman at all if I could possibly help it. If she and I were in the same function, I would simply ignore as much as possible and not get drawn into conversations with her - my refrain would be "I don't know you well enough to talk about this subject with you." In groups, I would probably just as politely as possible ignore everything she says (it really can be done) until it crossed my personal boundary of offensive behavior (the vodka comment is over the line and really is grounds for a "How dare you speak about me in such a way?" but no one but Miss Manners would probably actually say that).

Anonymous said...

If she talks under her breath, you could ask, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, "I didn't quite catch that, Rudi. Could you repeat it?"

If she does, you could try acting puzzled, and asking, "So, the problem is that you would like me to 'shut up', as you put it, and you think that giving me vodka would help to achieve that?"

Continue the line of questioning until - as may happen - she becomes embarrassed and finds someone else to pick on. If she's talking under her breath, that means she doesn't want to be exposed to this kind of scrutiny.

If killing her with kindness would work, I'd say go for it - but in my extensive experience, many bullies will simultaneously accept the special treatment as their due, and despise you for being sucker enough to dispense it. She will probably take it as positive reinforcement and a cue to continue, whatever she makes of it. Of course, you could kill her with kindness for the sheer sake of answering evil with good, but don't expect her to behave well in response.

These people just don't operate like you and me.