Anyone can be subjected to rudeness and inconsideration.

Because I’m a writer of books and columns, and because I’ve lectured, appeared on radio and TV, I am sometimes recognized in public. I’m glad I’m not more recognizable, for along with the lovely feedback, gratitude and complements I get from many people, others feel compelled to criticize, often in a mean way, and often without having even read whatever book or column they’re criticizing. So, I’ve been forced to learn to deal with negative comments, even when they’re mean spirited, and intended to hurt me. Because we all get criticized from time to time, you may find the following ideas helpful.

How you handle an awkward situation depends on whether you are setting boundaries or not. Most situations can be handled with polite firmness. At times it’s hard to know how to say “no, thank you” and make it stick.

If you say “no, thank you” several times, then, gently tell the person you don’t like what they’re doing, that it makes you uncomfortable, and they still don’t get it, then you need to sit them down and tell them you will not allow them to do that to you.

For example, if a friend makes rude or intrusive comments about your age, you can say, gently, “Your comment makes me uncomfortable” or “I appreciate that you think I look good, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my age.” If that doesn’t work, then have a talk. Say, “When you ask questions about my age, it makes me unhappy, and hurts my feelings.” If that doesn’t improve matters, then you’ll need to give that person a “time out:” withdraw from personal contact, and just be very polite when you do happen to see him or her. He or she will get the message loud and clear. Perhaps your friend will ask “Are you mad at me?” and then you can describe what the problem is.

Here are some possible awkward moments and how to handle them.

• You bump into someone and have forgotten her name, so you can’t introduce her to your partner.
This one is easily handled with a pre arrangement with your partner. My husband knows if I don’t introduce him right away, to say “Hi, I’m Richard. I didn’t catch your name.” Then I can say “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you two had never met.” Or, you can take the direct approach. “I’m sorry; I’ve forgotten your name.” Or, if you’re my age you can say, “Please forgive me, I’m having a senior moment, and can’t recall your name.”

• You’re gossiping about someone in the office bathroom and she comes out of the stall.
The only thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry. That was rude of me.” But you’ll never be able to take it back. This is why gossip is a very bad idea. Best solution; give up gossiping; it only hurts you and everyone else. Second best: save gossiping for a private time and place and don’t just let your mouth run. If you gossip in a public area, you never know if a friend or relative of the subject of your gossip is overhearing you.

• You show up for a blind date and don’t like what you see.
I suggest, for all blind dates or Internet first meets, that you have a friend or family member call you a few minutes after the date begins. You can ignore the call if you are having fun, or you can say “Omygosh! I’ll be right there.” into the phone and plead a family emergency. Or, you can spend a few minutes having a cup of coffee and then say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’re a match. Thanks very much.” and leave. Don’t make blind dates for some complicated or expensive affair; have a coffee date first. You should always have your own transportation to a first, blind date, and you shouldn’t have the unknown person meet you at home. Meet for coffee somewhere public instead.

• Your babysitter asks for a raise that you don’t think she deserves.
Why do you have a babysitter you don’t think is good? If you don’t like her, get another baby sitter. You can say, “I’m sorry, this is as much as we can pay right now.” Don’t wait until she asks for a raise if there are problems, and don’t come up with a litany of problems after she asks for a raise. She won’t believe you; she’ll think you’re just trying to justify not giving her a raise.

• Your mother-in-law buys your daughter an outfit you don’t think is appropriate for a tween. (Naturally your tween loves it.)
If you can, make some adjustments (like a tank or leotard under a bare belly outfit) which will make the outfit more appropriate, so she can wear it. Then, let her grandmother see her in it. That will get the message across. Otherwise, give the outfit back to grandma, and say “Susie loves your gift, and thank you for thinking of her, but I’m afraid I’m too prudish to let her wear it. I’m so sorry.”

• You get an inappropriate or startlingly ugly gift from someone.
Say “Thank you” and accept the gift graciously. Think about the good intentions of the gift giver, and then, later on, you can give it to a thrift store or someone else who might like it.

• Someone comments on your weight loss, and it doesn’t feel good.
As someone who has lost and gained weight, I understand the problem exactly. The recipient of the compliment (especially the backhanded ones) also realizes that the commenter must have been critical about her weight, albeit silently, before this. People wishing to give compliments should stick to “gee, you look great.” and refrain from adding the intrusive “have you lost weight?” It’s really a privacy issue, although weight loss can be seen, it’s really not someone else’s business.

If you receive such an awkward compliment, simply say “thank you” and bring up a different topic, or add “you are looking well, too.” If you don’t let the busybody (who may be very well intentioned) draw you into a conversation about your weight and health, you will discourage further comment. If you get a really egregious comment like “you were really fat before” don’t dignify it with a reply. Just look the person in the eye, and remain silent. There’s no need to say anything to a slap like that. Your silence will speak volumes. Let the silence hang in the air a moment, and then bring up a totally different topic, like “isn’t it a lovely day?” Or, if you feel very insulted, just walk away and speak with someone else. If you’re so upset you can’t control your retort, then say “excuse me” and quickly go to the bathroom, which is a safe haven where you can compose yourself. The rude “friend” will get the message much more clearly this way than if you lower yourself to his or her level and retort with anger.

Handling difficult personalities takes skill and knowhow. Here’s a technique anyone can learn to use that works every time.

Adult time out
If someone behaves badly in your presence, giving that adult a “time out” is a powerful and subtle way of fixing the problem. Modern parents use a time out to discipline small children. The child is sent to a corner, or a room, to think about his or her behavior. An adult variation of the time out works as well on any adult friend who is acting childish or misbehaving. All you need to do is become very distant and polite around the person who is not treating you well. No personal talk and interaction, no joking, no emotion. Be very polite, so the person cannot accuse you of being unpleasant, mean or rude. There is no need to explain what you are doing: the problem person will get the message from your behavior which is much more effective. If you’ve never tried this, you’ll be amazed at how effective becoming polite and pleasant but distant can be.

Most of the time, your friend’s behavior will immediately become more subdued around you; and often, her or she will treat you with more care. Eventually, he or she may ask you what’s wrong, or why you’ve changed, and at that point (and only at that point) you have an opportunity to tell him or her what the problem behavior is, and why you don’t like it. Learning to put obnoxious friends in time outs right at the beginning of unpleasant behavior can make it unnecessary to use tougher tactics at all. And if the person’s behavior doesn’t change, you can leave him or her in “time out” and you’ll be protected from it.
© 2016 Tina B. Tessina adapted from: The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty (Kindle and Paperback)

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 14 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction;The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, The Real 13th Step and her newest, How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Dr. Tessina was the CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina

Phone: (562)438-8077  | for permission to reprint, email: tina@tinatessina.com
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