Don't take mean people personally. It's them, not you.
They are your sneering co-workers, your prying neighbors, your insulting in-laws.
They are the nasty people who make environments toxic — and apparently their churlishness is quite lucrative, according to a new study that found “less agreeable” employees earn higher paychecks (18 percent more among men, 5 percent among women) than their nicer counterparts.
But you can beat them without joining them.
“Their biggest motivation is that they actually feel inferior to you, so they’ll slash you down to their level,” said psychologist Jay Carter, author of “Nasty People: How To Stop Being Hurt by Them Without Stooping to Their Level” (McGraw Hill, $9.95).
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The most important step is not to take what they say or do personally, Carter said. It’s not you, it’s them.
OK, sometimes it is you.
About 1 percent of the population are deliberately malicious, anti-social personalities out to manipulate and control people for their own gain without conscience; another 10 percent were subjected to others’ anti-social behavior and picked up the bad habits; and then there are the rest of us, who can have moments of meanness when we’re stressed, insecure or succumbing to any number of our baser human emotions. Often we do so unconsciously, to our parents, kids, best friends. Carter calls it engaging in “invalidating” behavior.
“We’re all invalidators, even by silent invalidating,” Carter said, referring to when we demean people by ignoring them.
Being aware of your capacity to bite — and the destructive effects it can have on the well-being of others — goes a long way toward amending your own negativity.
As for dealing with other difficult people, Carter has a few suggestions.
See it for what it is. Rather than internalize the criticism or dwell on what you might have done to deserve the attack, recognize that the nasty person has personal issues. That’s not to say a good friend can’t point out a flaw that needs fixing, but when someone piles on five or six things that are wrong with you, take a step back and see what’s really going on.
Get away. Exit the room, the conversation, even town if necessary. Calmly, efficiently, and without saying anything you’d regret.
Get them on your side. Invalidators respond well to three things: affinity, acknowledgment and admiration. Repeat back what they have said to you so that they feel understood, and begin any argument with a compliment.
Diffuse with humor. If your mother-in-law becomes enraged about your skimpy outfit, agree with her to the point of exaggeration — “I know I’m such a slut!” — and often everyone is laughing by the end.
Silent confrontation. Rather than fire back or get into a row, you can confront without opening your mouth. Just maintain eye contact and give a calm smile that indicates you know what your tormentor is doing; eventually they’ll feel so uncomfortable they’ll stop or leave.
Come again? Asking someone to repeat their nasty remark (“I’m sorry, what did you just call me?”) forces them to own up to what they just said — and many people, embarrassed, will water it down the second time around.
State the obvious. If, say, a co-worker berates you during a meeting, point out the facts — “You are yelling at me” or “You are embarrassing me in front of everyone” — and ask to talk about it later. You can always find truth in your feelings, such as “I feel put on the spot.”
One on one. If it’s not important, let it go. If it is important, get them alone and start by saying something like “Maybe you didn’t know …” Some mean people deliver their biggest sting in front of an audience, and alone they might be apologetic.
Mirror. If someone accuses you of stealing or cheating and they are way off base, ask them if they are guilty of the same.
Don’ts: Don’t taunt, name-call or get physically violent. Also, never tell an invalidator he or she is wrong; it starts a war.
Tired of being the bigger person?
Though it’s not the most enlightened strategy, sometimes all you want is to tell a creep off with a brilliant comeback — which, inevitably, doesn’t come to mind until hours later.
Thankfully, we now have “Dear A (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK): 101 Tear-Out Letters to the Morons Who Muck Up Your Life” (Running Press, $13), by humor writers Jillian and Michelle Madison, creators of pop culture websites pophangover.com and damnyouautocorrect.com. The new book lets you eloquently vent your rage at life’s annoying cast of characters, such as the “a (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK) boss,” the “overly competitive a (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK),” the “social media-obsessed a (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)” and the “a (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK) who left dirty dishes in the sink” (“P.S. It’s been two weeks. Exactly how much longer does that pot need to ‘soak’?”)