5 Comebacks When Dealing With Mean People

Have you ever been in a situation where someone says something that upsets you? How often does your closest friend, partner, family member, coworkers, employer, or a completely perfect stranger engage in rude speech that makes you feel rattled?  What was your response? 

Keeping a positive attitude is essential when dealing with mean people. The last thing you want to do is return the insult, which would only make the situation worse. A relationship you value could be irreparably damaged. You shouldn’t let anyone be mean to you. Taking the initiative and coming back with a quick response will let them know the behaviour is unacceptable. 

With that said, below are 5 comebacks when dealing with mean people: 

  1. “Hey, you seem a little upset. Is everything okay?”

It is not uncommon that rudeness begets rudeness. Catching rudeness is like catching a cold. A study by Foulk, Woolum, & Erez (2016) published in The Journal of Applied Psychology justified this phenomenon. Researchers asked participants to negotiate with either a rude or neutral party. A variety of time frames ranging from the same day to seven days later were given to participants and they were asked to negotiate with a third party. Both participants and the third party were surveyed about the experience. People perceived their subsequent negotiation to be more rude after negotiating with rude individuals in their first negotiation. This effect lasted for up to 7 days following the initial encounter. Simply put, rudeness can spread from one person to another.

To prevent rudeness from “spreading”, you can break the chain by asking them if they are okay and opening up an honest conversation. This also indicates that their negative comments do not affect you because you are really concerned about the truth. It’s important for you to understand why they say those things to you and what’s driving them to do so.

  1. “Let’s start this conversation over.” 

Have you ever been in a conversation which quickly turned into an all-out row, where the other person started to yell and used swear words? Perhaps the other person has a different opinion than you, which sparked resistance and defensiveness. It might be difficult for you not to retaliate with harsh words as well. Does any of the above sound familiar? When you are in the middle of the conflict, it is a wise move to offer to start the conversation again instead of becoming defensive and proving that you are right.  By doing so, you are showing that it is powerful to forgive and forget.

  1. “I don’t allow people to talk to me like that.” 

Do you notice when your conversation with a person starts to escalate into heated arguments, the other person might try to disrespect you and put you down? When you notice this shift in the conversation’s trajectory, you can try to maintain your dignity by saying, “I don’t allow people to talk to me like that.” According to a psychotherapist, Emily Roberts (MA, LPC), by saying this, you are reclaiming your power, stating your boundary, and showing that you are in control and won’t let the other person control your emotions. You are showing yourself respect by not allowing people to disrespect you. You will find that people will respect you more when you are assertive, set boundaries and prioritise your self-care. But what if the person is still mad, disrespectful towards you, and invalidates your experience? Those are the people who are not healthy for you in the first place, and perhaps it would be a good idea to minimise or avoid your interactions with them in the future.  

  1. “Let’s just take a few minutes to calm down before it gets worse and come back to this later.” 

How often do you get involved in an argument and say something that you really regret? Brian Wind, a licensed clinical psychologist, suggests that if you’re upset and want to avoid saying something you’ll regret, tell the other person you need some space and time. Tell them you need 10 minutes to calm down, and you will get back to them afterwards. Having calmed down, you’ll be better prepared to handle the conflict when you return. This way, you are more likely to be able to resolve your differences calmly. 

  1. “You need to re-evaluate the way you speak to people.” 

Normally, when rude people are on their worst behaviour, they are overwhelmed with frustration, and it can be a secret sign for help. You will be able to lead them in the right direction by giving them a chance to self-evaluate. It’s also a way of telling them that you are not happy with where the conversation is going and making them self-aware of what impact their words have on you. Apart from that, this shows that you are willing to give them the grace to correct themselves and try to be more polite. 

Final thoughts 

Sometimes you’d be best off walking away if all else fails. Even if you have done all you can to make the person aware of their own actions and you have shown kindness and empathy to them, it may still be that they are incapable of being polite and good-mannered. When you avoid habitually rude people, you take away their audience and limit their ability to lash out at other people. This is also a de-escalation technique. When everyone around them begins to distance themselves from them, perhaps it will give them a wake-up call. Even if not, it will at least make everyone else’s day better. 


Foulk, T., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2016). Catching rudeness is like catching a cold: The contagion effects of low-intensity negative behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 50–67. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000037

Lawrenz, L., & Cox, J. (2022). Stuck in an Endless Argument? Here’s How to Move on. Psych Central. Retrieved 30 May 2022, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-move-past-an-argument#how-to-stop.

Roberts, E. (2022). Show Yourself Respect: How to Communicate with Confidence | HealthyPlace. Healthyplace.com. Retrieved 30 May 2022, from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2017/09/respect-yourself-how-to-communicate-with-confidence.

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