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Published on November 4, 2020

How to Deal With Mean People the Smart Way

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.

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

Final Thoughts

In a perfect world, there would be no mean people. Until that blessed day arrives, though, you’ll have to learn how to handle those lovely individuals in a smart way. Start preparing today to deal wisely with mean people who cross your path, and you’ll leave both sides better off.

More Tips on How to Deal With Mean People

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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Kimberly Zhang

Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

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