Real Life

Psychologist Joe Hart gives his advice on how best to deal with rude people

Tips for how to stand up for yourself
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I know that, thanks to COVID, many of us have endured the anxiety that comes with an uncertain income and the threat of getting sick or passing it on to loved ones.

We’ve also suffered months of lockdowns with minimal interaction so, suffice to say, we may be a little rusty in our social etiquette.

Consequently, you may have noticed a spike in the number of unpleasant interactions you’re having with strangers.

This could be while walking your dog, getting a coffee or braving the supermarket hoping to find affordable groceries.

There are a few critical junctures in all interactions that are better navigated by using the following tools.

As a psychologist, I find these incredibly useful approaches for building better relationships.


As an avid martial arts fan, I enjoy watching a good fight, however, the best fighters know how to keep cool under pressure.

This means knowing when not to fight. When you are experiencing a negative interaction with a stranger, the best advice I can give is to simply not engage.

It may not be as satisfying but having an argument with a total stranger is about as tactful as breaking up with someone via text message.

Now, sometimes you can’t simply walk away, say if you’re working as a customer service representative.

Instead, try the below tips that will elevate your ability to deal with difficult people when you can’t leave.

It’s best not to engage in negative interactions with strangers.

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Sometimes, when people are focused on what they need to achieve, a challenge they might have or an emotion they are experiencing, they can completely lose perspective.

To enable them to regain some clarity, simply listen to what they are saying, reflect back what you’ve heard (paraphrase) and repeat this process until they answer with “That’s right” or “Yes, you’ve got it.”

At this point, they are confirming they’re feeling understood.

This enables you to move into a more respectful dialogue with them.


As human beings, we find it very difficult to opt out of things due to our fear of missing out. This is called loss aversion.

We can use this principle when challenged by people who are not aware of the negative impact their behaviour is having on us.

By simply saying, “Would you like to know how your behaviour is affecting me?” Most people will answer, “Yes, please.” When somebody answers yes, they are inviting you to provide feedback to help them better understand how they are being experienced.

When this is done well, each conversation becomes an awareness-building opportunity.

It won’t always be easy to do, but it will be more sustainable.

Calm your body before you respond to rude people.

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We all have bad days, some people more than others, and for this reason, we need to cut each other a bit of slack.

If you are already experiencing a heightened state of arousal, based on things not going well in your world, you are at a higher risk of being triggered by somebody else who is having a bad day, too.

When somebody is rude and overreacts to something or someone, try not to bite back.

Instead, acknowledge that there’s more to their story than you can possibly know. They are most likely hurting right now.

If you see it through that lens, you are better able to avoid being triggered by their rudeness.


This might take a bit of practice to get right, but if you can master this technique, you’ll be well rewarded.

When we observe somebody behaving rudely, either to us or to somebody else, it can activate our mirror neurons, which start the process of emotional escalation.

Think of the last time you witnessed road rage. Aggressive behaviour leads to more aggressive behaviour.

If you have the ability to recognise that your body will respond to a threat predictably – such as an elevated heart rate, perspiration – then you have the ability to counteract it.

Focusing on your breathing, by slowing it down, will have a knock-on effect causing your body to relax.

The best part is that the person standing opposite you can’t help but mirror your relaxation. This is like magic when you experience it, but it takes practice and control to master.

This works with positive interactions, too, so start there and work up to challenging conversations.

Joe Hart ( is an organisational psychologist and founder of the leadership development True Perspective.

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