Dealing with offensive people

Dealing with offensive people

by Eunice Chua 05 Feb 2020

It might be a passing comment from a stranger. Or it could be a casual joke from an acquaintance. Worst still, it could be an insensitive remark from someone you trust. Whatever form it comes in, dealing with offensive behaviour is something that we all have to deal with at some point in our lives.


How do you deal with an offensive person? Sadly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for sure. Every situation carries a unique context that requires you to exercise your own judgment on how you want to handle it. Plan your reaction carefully – you don’t want to fight fire with fire because that can end up making the other party more hostile. Here are some aspects you should consider when dealing with offensive people.


1. The person’s identity and significance in your life

Addressing someone’s behaviour could end badly if they don’t agree with you or are mad over how you called them out. That’s why it’s really important to consider what the person means to you before you plan your response. Can you afford to lose their friendship? Or do you really need such an insensitive, bigoted person in your life? If losing this individual matters a great deal, go for a less direct approach and try to engage them in a conversation to slowly introduce the issue so that it’s less confrontational.


2. What they said

Whether the offensive person was simply making an innocent joke or expressing his/her legitimate views, it's important to consider the content of the message. If the comments were downright abusive, you have every right to speak up for yourself and be assertive about it.


3. When you should speak

The nastier the remarks were, the quicker you should deal with it and not let it harbour on your mind. This doesn't mean that you have to retort immediately; waiting it out can be good too. Taking a breather gives you time to calm down and plan how best to respond. Saying brash things in the heat of the moment may not get you the vindication you seek.


4. Your audience

Addressing the matter in private usually yields better outcomes because people are more open to listening when their ego isn’t at stake. It’s normal for people to get defensive when they think they’re being shamed in front of others so avoid that as much as you can. However, if someone is known to have a habit of manipulating the facts when recounting an incident, addressing your concerns is public may be a better idea. It's much harder to pull the wool over the eyes if there are multiple pairs in the scene!


5. Other tips to succeed

The way you communicate has to be convincing. Being firm and decisive will help you to gain their respect. At the same time, be empathetic and understanding so that they’ll listen. Most importantly, be confident and have faith in yourself – remember that by calling out someone’s offensive behaviour, you’re also saving the next person who may get hurt by their reckless words/actions.


Dealing with offensive people isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Letting such behaviour perpetuate creates a toxic environment, whether it’s at work or in a social setting. By standing up for yourself, you’re not just helping yourself but also making the social atmosphere safer and more inclusive for everyone else.