Responding to Jerks

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Post by kath on Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:25 pm

This was inspired by a thing that actually happened to me, but I want to have a general discussion more than get advice ... though some advice (particularly on how to practice suggestions) would be appreciated!

I had an interaction with my dad's friend at my dad's birthday dinner that really upset me, and I don't think I handled it perfectly, but I think I handled it in the best way I could at the time. Here's what happened:


I suggested my mother could put LEDs into Chinese lanterns (the plant).

My father's friend asked "what's an LED"

I responded "a light emitting diode"

He asked, "what's a diode"

I can't remember what my specific words were here - something like "I'm not quite sure exactly, maybe it works like ... " which is how I tend to approach things neither party seems to know an answer to in a conversation - we compare theories based on our existing knowledge, and maybe we'll verify if we want. Also, it took my a while to figure out that he was actually asking me what diodes in general, as electronic components, do, not "an LED emits light ... " I like electronics, but I'm not even at a somewhat-serious hobbyist's level of knowledge, and this friend of my father's knows I do not have an electronics background.  

My husband reaches to pull out his phone to show that the light on the phone is an LED. My father's friend assumes he is getting his phone out to look up the way diodes work, and he said "No, I want to know what's in that blonde head". This really, really upset me - because it's sexist (dumb blondes are not men), and it was just such out-of-the-blue demand to prove my worth based on whether I know exactly what a diode's function in a circuit is. The conversation kind of moved on, and he said " ... because an electrical engineer I knew was talking about it ... " and I realised this was not a conversation I was willing to continue, and I said "maybe you should have asked him," was clearly upset, and went upstairs to cry in peace.

We had been about to leave when the conversations started, so in the end I just came downstairs, got my purse, said goodbye to my family and left, without acknowledging my father's friend again.

There was also a second aspect of it that I did think I handled well:

My mother mentioned the next day that no one had done anything much, but that my brother had said "you're both wrong". I was pretty offended by that, because it implies that we both did something comparably wrong, and also that I should have been able to deal with the situation better. I think it is within the realm of possibility for me to deal with it in a way I am happier about, but I don't think my response "should" have been better. In this case, I asked my brother to talk to me in private, verified that he had actually said that, and told him I didn't appreciate it and why. He said he understood and apologized, and though I could have made a couple more points about other things I thought were not on about saying "you're both wrong", I had gotten the apology so I didn't belabor the point. I was certainly emotional, but I didn't need to leave and was apparently able to express myself coherently.

Now, one thing I think is key to my being able to deal with things "better" is accepting that this is not my long suit, and that if I am really upset about something, sometimes "start crying and leave" is the most productive thing I can do. It's not my job to fix jerks - and it's not my job to police their opinion of me. So if I start crying and leave and the jerk thinks I am a stupid emotional baby (particularly in this case - this person is extremely tangential to my life), that's not a problem I need to worry about. (If I had started yelling at him, insulting him, or throwing things or whatever, that would certainly have been inappropriate behavior I would have been responsible for. But if someone has just belittled me on the basis of my appearance and gender and I want to go away and have a cry about it, I am going to.

One thing I'm also interested in is why this bothered me so much. I think partially because it was clearly like "watch me throw my intellectual weight around, in this case weight I think I can throw around because I am a man, 2.5 times your age, and a university professor (not in electronics), none of which are relevant to this conversation and even though this is not an appropriate place to do that, and also I am going to call attention to your youth and gender, with words people use to belittle the intellectual powers of people who look like you regardless of their actual intellectual powers". And you know, in a context where smart doesn't have anything to do with the conversation, and clearly because as a white, older, professorial mad, that's what he does - he wasn't even thinking about "maybe I should try to treat my conversation partner as an equal". And I was kinda like "OH, THAT'S NOT THE CONVERSATION I WAS HAVING AT ALL. I was having a conversation with a fellow adult, and you were not. That was the jerkiest bait-and-switch conversation ever!" Because I would have really liked a "let's see if we can logic out the function of a diode based on our combined knowledge, and then let's check how we did on wikipedia" conversation.

So, the point: How do you respond when people say jerky things you don't expect? How do you practice responding the way you want to respond?
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Post by UristMcBunny on Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:42 pm

Staircase wit for me mostly, I'm afraid. Like, situations like this I tend to just about manage a "huh" at the person being a jerk and changing the subject/showing obvious disinterest until they stop. But I have definitely had situations like this and usually, about ten minutes too late, what I wish I'd said is something like

Buttface: "No but I want to know what she knows about it."
Me: "You realise I'm not paying you tuition, right?"

Buttface: "Sure I know, but I want to know if she knows."
Me: "Pretty sure the time when it would've been appropriate for you to give me homework assignments passed about a decade ago."

Buttface: "I wanna see how smart she really is."
Me: "Smart enough to not give a shit about proving myself to you."

So yeah. One day. Sigh.

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Post by Wondering on Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:47 pm

I usually just clam up and stop talking to the person because they don't get that their comment was inappropriate, and it's not worth it to me to keep talking to them.

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Post by Enail on Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:51 pm

Honestly, I think "maybe you should have asked him" was a pretty perfect response!

But, man, I hate that kind of situation and totally 100% know what you mean. In most things, I consider myself pretty quick at a comeback, but when I'm in Polite Neutral Social Mode and it comes out of the blue, it almost always takes me offguard and I fumble or say nothing and leave the encounter stewing.

If you can pull off a slightly icy but not full-on dripping daggers tone of voice, "I beg your pardon?" is a good one, because it's all-purpose - which means you don't have to be totally on top of what's actually going on to be able to use it, just to have reached the point of feeling" Hey! Not cool!" So it's easier to practice. And it forces the other person to either make explicit their previously veiled rude statement - and a lot of the time, people doing this kind of condescension thing rely on keeping it implicit and plausibly deniable, which means putting you in the position of having to be rude to react to it - or to back down.

Or, if you can do a totally innocent, friendly tone (I can't do this one), "Sorry, I don't understand, what do you mean by that?" has the same all-purposeness and general effect.
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Post by reboot on Wed Oct 01, 2014 11:54 pm

I tend to have a sharp tongue so try to make sure my responses are deadpan or arch. In your case, my response to "No, I want to know what's in that blonde head" would have been, "On the topic of diodes, about the same as what is in that gray one....not much."

However, if I was in your shoes and this kind of interaction, I would do some conversation management. Once someone starts diverting the conversation with those challenging type questions and you feel uncomfortable, redirect to someone else in the group. In this case, after he asked what a diode was, turn to your mom and say, "Anyway, I think LED would look good in the Chinese lanterns, have you ever thought of trying them/do you want to go to the store this weekend and grab some to try out/I have some want me to bring some over to try?"

Jerks will try to get you back on the topic but you can safely ignore them since you are otherwise occupied. Generally someone else will grab their dangling conversational thread and any awkwardness will pass.
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Post by kath on Thu Oct 02, 2014 12:15 am

Thanks guys! So glad to hear how other people deal with this stuff too.

Reboot, I will try refocusing on what I was actually talking about before the derail, that's a great one. Especially if I can get in a "what's an LED" "light emitting diode" "no, what IS an LED, how does it work" "probably very well for this application. I can pick some up ..." type of shut-down / redirect.

The progression was sort of weird. I think I was taking time figuring out what he was asking, and the the "what's in that blonde head" comment came and I was going "SAY WHAT" in my head while my mouth was finishing off what it was in the middle of already responding to the original question (a theory rather than an answer), and by then I was nopetopus-ing. If only I could post gifs to my face IRL*.  I think I find that stuff a lot easier to deal with if my next response can actually be to that, and I wouldn't be like going back in the conversation after managing to finish my thought without addressing the thing that took me aback.

*Ooh, maybe this could be an art project. Portable projector projecting reaction gifs onto my face.
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Post by fakely mctest on Thu Oct 02, 2014 1:08 am

First of all, I'm sorry you had to deal with that! Jerks = the worst. I find that many of them are either consciously or unconsciously relying on the rules of polite society to provide cover for their behavior as well.

The last time I encountered a jerk in the wild (thankfully rare and then the dude up and moved back across the country and tried to stick a friend of mine with the expense of shipping all his stuff after the jerk had gotten himself evicted from his apartment for painting the whole thing with chalkboard paint without his landlord's permission. JERK. Ahem.) ANYHOW, he just kind of laid into me for no real reason but, no matter what he said, I just replied, "Okay," in a neutral tone. That approach also worked when a dude I'd gone out with a handful of times wouldn't stop badgering me to meet with him privately, accept presents, etc. I would put on my blandest face and say, "To be honest, that would make me really uncomfortable."

Understandably, there are some situations that are more fraught than others (I MAY have gotten into a fight at a friend's 4th of July party one year because of some incredibly ignorant and homophobic pronouncements another guest was making). In situations like that I honestly think it's okay to get visibly upset. There's a lot of pressure to be stoic as a way of "winning," which I've never found to be terribly helpful. Like if this person is a jerk I only end up feeling miserable in a stew of bottled up emotions, you know?

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Post by Izmuth on Thu Oct 02, 2014 4:20 am

Wow. That's a "friend" of your father?

The only thing you did "wrong" was letting your evening be ruined by that jerk, but that was completely understandable.

What I personally do in such situations is praise the Hell out of braggards like that, in a very sarcastic tone, but your mileage may vary on how effective it is.

"Wow, it's so amazing you know that, silly old me without any background in electronics should have known that too of course. Sadly we can't all be so smart like you".
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Post by Guest on Thu Oct 02, 2014 6:34 am

Eh, don't beat yourself up because you were too upset/taken aback to come out with something in the heat of the moment. I have had a lot of success with the Captain Awkward approved technique of saying, "Wow." really flatly. It's easy to call up at the time, and conveys the fact that the other person is being a jackass without you getting dragged into the whole "But it was just a joke/why are you upset/you misinterpreted" cycle of jerks explaining why it's fine that they are jerks.

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Post by Izmuth on Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:14 am

reboot wrote:I tend to have a sharp tongue so try to make sure my responses are deadpan or arch. In your case, my response to "No, I want to know what's in that blonde head" would have been, "On the topic of diodes, about the same as what is in that gray one....not much."

However, if I was in your shoes and this kind of interaction, I would do some conversation management. Once someone starts diverting the conversation with those challenging type questions and you feel uncomfortable, redirect to someone else in the group. In this case, after he asked what a diode was, turn to your mom and say, "Anyway, I think LED would look good in the Chinese lanterns, have you ever thought of trying them/do you want to go to the store this weekend and grab some to try out/I have some want me to bring some over to try?"

Jerks will try to get you back on the topic but you can safely ignore them since you are otherwise occupied. Generally someone else will grab their dangling conversational thread and any awkwardness will pass.

Hmmm... I don't think I entirely agree with this advice. But I also don't disagree. My feelings are complicated.

My problem is that not being able to admit you don't know something stands in the way of learning.
Example: A mathematics teacher of mine really rushed his lectures. Since I am smart (and oh so modest Razz), I was able to follow the lecture easily, but I noticed that half the classroom was really struggling to keep up, but no one dared to admit that they were struggling (in my personal opinion not being allowed to admit that you don't know something without being thought of as stupid is also a big part of why minorities and women struggle in STEM fields).

I fear the same thing will happen if you shy away from conversations where someone asks what something is, because you think you're being tested. I recognize I can talk easily as a man since it's acceptable for me to not know something, but the only one you're screwing over by treating all conversations like traps is yourself.

I like embertines suggestion of plain "wow" when someone's a jerk.
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Post by BasedBuzzed on Thu Oct 02, 2014 9:45 am

"Mostly tea parties and princess dresses"

"Ugh, way to recycle lazy stereotypes that perpetuate casual misogyny and serve to bar girls from ever going into STEM fields" (best done in a way that has him confused whether you're serious or not)

"You're just jealous that I still have colour in my hair"

"I sooo have a GIF for this stashed away somewhere"

*Break into the song from Earth Girls Are Easy*

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Post by kath on Thu Oct 02, 2014 10:23 am

Izmuth wrote:
The only thing you did "wrong" was letting your evening be ruined by that jerk, but that was completely understandable.

As someone who gets emotional, on behalf of all people who do, please don't say this to people who are upset!

I totally get what you are trying to say, but this is my mother's approach, and it actually makes me, at least, feel a lot worse. Instead of accepting that I'm upset and that is a totally reasonable response, it says "You would be better off if you could just shrug this off." It's not affirming. It's additional criticism when the person you're talking to is upset already. You have air quotes around wrong, but you're saying I "let" them ruin my night. I didn't let him ruing my night! Him being a jerk ruined my night! It's not my job to let him get away with it by acting like I don't care if I do, in fact, care!

After this event I asked my mother never ever to say that to me again.

Additionally, for me, crying is a self-soothing technique. So telling me I shouldn't be crying causes internal conflict, where my body is saying "but crying used to make you feel better! It helped you get the emotions out! I'm just going back to what worked so well" and my head is saying "you are such a loser baby who can't handle your emotions because you want to cry". You don't know why the person is upset, or how much their way of dealing with things will ruin their night. "You shouldn't let it ruin your night" just feeds that internal conflict.

If you want to help the person feel better, a more productive way to do so is to ask them what they would like to talk about (it may be how much of a loser the jerk is. If you don't want to talk about that, you don't have to, but don't assume you know what will make them feel better). Or, if you can't talk about the situation because that will make you upset or uncomfortable, doing things like giving them a hot drink, talking about something else that's calming and that they like, or just leaving them alone for a while after asking if that's what they need would actually accomplish that goal much more effectively than telling them they're emotioning wrong. Your air-quotes don't make it not criticism.

Izmuth wrote:
What I personally do in such situations is praise the Hell out of braggards like that, in a very sarcastic tone, but your mileage may vary on how effective it is.

"Wow, it's so amazing you know that, silly old me without any background in electronics should have known that too of course. Sadly we can't all be so smart like you".

He didn't actually know himself Razz.

Izmuth wrote:
My problem is that not being able to admit you don't know something stands in the way of learning.
Example: A mathematics teacher of mine really rushed his lectures. Since I am smart (and oh so modest Razz), I was able to follow the lecture easily, but I noticed that half the classroom was really struggling to keep up, but no one dared to admit that they were struggling (in my personal opinion not being allowed to admit that you don't know something without being thought of as stupid is also a big part of why minorities and women struggle in STEM fields).

I fear the same thing will happen if you shy away from conversations where someone asks what something is, because you think you're being tested. I recognize I can talk easily as a man since it's acceptable for me to not know something, but the only one you're screwing over by treating all conversations like traps is yourself.

I like embertines suggestion of plain "wow" when someone's a jerk.

Izmuth, I think you are assuming this conversation had a different character than it actually did.

The thing that upset me wasn't not knowing what a diode is, or having to admit that - I have conversations every day in which I have to admit I don't know things. Often things way more close to my field of knowledge than this. Sometimes my conversational partner knows the answer, sometimes not. I love conversations where people are sharing knowledge - this wasn't that conversation, this was a conversation where someone who didn't actually know the answer decided to belittle me for what he had arbitrarily decided I should know. His sexist comments made that evident. I don't think people are testing me when they ask me stuff I don't know, I think they're testing me when they are demanding answers from a position of power (whether they have assumed that power or actually have it) and evaluating me on whether I know the answer, which is very different from having a conversation about something one doesn't know. Additionally, testing another person is only socially appropriate when you are teaching them something, not in a casual conversation between equals. Because it is not an equal situation.

When you are talking to someone who isn't a jerk (or behaving in a jerky manner), I totally agree, admitting you don't know something is great. When you're talking to a jerk, whether or not you know the answer is immaterial. Getting out of the jerk-situation, which was what reboot's advice was geared towards, is much more important. Then you can go look up the actual answer on wikipedia (which I did, because I did want to know. I also looked at how LEDs in particular work, and found out what electron holes are, so that was cool).
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Post by Izmuth on Thu Oct 02, 2014 11:33 am

kath wrote:
Izmuth wrote:
The only thing you did "wrong" was letting your evening be ruined by that jerk, but that was completely understandable.

As someone who gets emotional, on behalf of all people who do, please don't say this to people who are upset!

I totally get what you are trying to say, but this is my mother's approach, and it actually makes me, at least, feel a lot worse. Instead of accepting that I'm upset and that is a totally reasonable response, it says "You would be better off if you could just shrug this off." It's not affirming. It's additional criticism when the person you're talking to is upset already. You have air quotes around wrong, but you're saying I "let" them ruin my night. I didn't let him ruing my night! Him being a jerk ruined my night! It's not my job to let him get away with it by acting like I don't care if I do, in fact, care!

After this event I asked my mother never ever to say that to me again.

Additionally, for me, crying is a self-soothing technique. So telling me I shouldn't be crying causes internal conflict, where my body is saying "but crying used to make you feel better! It helped you get the emotions out! I'm just going back to what worked so well" and my head is saying "you are such a loser baby who can't handle your emotions because you want to cry". You don't know why the person is upset, or how much their way of dealing with things will ruin their night. "You shouldn't let it ruin your night" just feeds that internal conflict.

If you want to help the person feel better, a more productive way to do so is to ask them what they would like to talk about (it may be how much of a loser the jerk is. If you don't want to talk about that, you don't have to, but don't assume you know what will make them feel better). Or, if you can't talk about the situation because that will make you upset or uncomfortable, doing things like giving them a hot drink, talking about something else that's calming and that they like, or just leaving them alone for a while after asking if that's what they need would actually accomplish that goal much more effectively than telling them they're emotioning wrong. Your air-quotes don't make it not criticism.


Mi scuzi! A bad defence, but I thought I saw you use the word wrong somewhere in your post as in something like "advice on what I did wrong". Now I reread it, it was my mind playing tricks on me and inserting words where there were none.

If you said yourself that you did something "wrong", I did not agree, since as you said, the whole situation was the jerk's fault alone. That's why I tried to say that it's easier on yourself to just consider him a jerk and not let it get to you, using the same words I thought you used in a somewhat ironic fashion. But again my apologies, I can see how you took it as criticism that you didn't emotion right.

kath wrote:
He didn't actually know himself Razz.

O_o

... what a charming person he must be. Trying to put someone down with knowledge he himself does not posses.


kath wrote:Izmuth, I think you are assuming this conversation had a different character than it actually did.

The thing that upset me wasn't not knowing what a diode is, or having to admit that - I have conversations every day in which I have to admit I don't know things. Often things way more close to my field of knowledge than this. Sometimes my conversational partner knows the answer, sometimes not. I love conversations where people are sharing knowledge - this wasn't that conversation, this was a conversation where someone who didn't actually know the answer decided to belittle me for what he had arbitrarily decided I should know. His sexist comments made that evident. I don't think people are testing me when they ask me stuff I don't know, I think they're testing me when they are demanding answers from a position of power (whether they have assumed that power or actually have it) and evaluating me on whether I know the answer, which is very different from having a conversation about something one doesn't know. Additionally, testing another person is only socially appropriate when you are teaching them something, not in a casual conversation between equals. Because it is not an equal situation.

When you are talking to someone who isn't a jerk (or behaving in a jerky manner), I totally agree, admitting you don't know something is great. When you're talking to a jerk, whether or not you know the answer is immaterial. Getting out of the jerk-situation, which was what reboot's advice was geared towards, is much more important. Then you can go look up the actual answer on wikipedia (which I did, because I did want to know. I also looked at how LEDs in particular work, and found out what electron holes are, so that was cool).

Well, I only disagreed with reboot's suggestion of the timing. If I read it correct, the moment he asked what a diode was you still thought he was seriously interested in the answer and not just being a jerk right? I think your approach of
I tend to approach things neither party seems to know an answer to in a conversation - we compare theories based on our existing knowledge, and maybe we'll verify if we want
is a really great way for both parties in a conversation to learn something.

I mean, knowing how things work is actually not that interesting (to me at least, I mean all knowledge is just a Google away). But knowing how they might work, that's how you learn to apply your mind in creative ways and actually use your knowledge. That's why I thought reboots suggestion to immediately turn to your mom after someone asks you a question you don't know the answer to and switch the conversation subject might be a bit premature, if you apply it to all conversations.

Of course, when it's evident that the other person is a jerk who's only testing you, I agree that conversation management is a good thing.

Does it make sense what I am trying to say? I might have misunderstood reboot completely, of course.
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Post by reboot on Thu Oct 02, 2014 12:00 pm

And I may not have been as clear as I wanted Smile I was thinking when you detect that the conversation is veering from honest inquiry into something baiting to redirect. Honest inquiry is fun. Random knowledge tests are not and if that situation crops up, redirect.
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Post by kath on Fri Oct 03, 2014 12:57 am

Thanks for explaining, Izmuth, that makes total sense! And I do agree, on principle refusing to admit you're wrong or don't know something in a conversation is a very bad policy. My mother also actually did say "it's not worth your time" while I was upset, so it was pretty raw for me Smile.
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Post by Conreezy on Fri Oct 03, 2014 10:27 am

I very flatly call people on it. I say, "Wow, what a dick" or "Well, that was insulting." Then I carry right on with the conversation like it didn't happen. I have pretty thick skin, but a lot of people who act that way don't; it's fun to casually crack their veneer of "I'm so cool."


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Post by Enail on Fri Oct 03, 2014 11:20 am

Conreezy wrote:I very flatly call people on it.  I say, "Wow, what a dick" or "Well, that was insulting."  Then I carry right on with the conversation like it didn't happen.  I have pretty thick skin, but a lot of people who act that way don't; it's fun to casually crack their veneer of "I'm so cool."

In the same vein, I've had good success with a surprised-sounding "huh, that was rude." Possibly more success b/c it wasn't a thought-out response so much as blurting out my natural reaction. ...I wonder if figuring out what your natural reaction generally is, and then short-circuiting the 'social politeness' restraints that keep you from saying it, actually would generally be a good response?
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Post by Werel on Sat Oct 04, 2014 1:02 am

I also have a sharp tongue (blessing+curse), and generally go with BasedBuzzed's "princesses and tea parties" tack-- the minute somebody invokes a bullshit stereotype, especially if they're leveraging social power they have over me (age, gender, being my boss [uh-oh]) it's really tough for me to resist putting increasingly ludicrous statements in their mouth. "I know; the worst part is just being physiologically incapable of passing by a shoe display! Haha women be shopping! Compulsively! Pathologically!" Triple bonus points if you can ramp up the extremity of their mirrored rhetoric so slowly that they start off agreeing with you, and don't realize until too late that they're now nodding along to advocating mass human culls.

Buuuut this is best reserved for cases of Chronic Terminal Jerkface, and it's an approach that will not serve the purpose of getting the jerk out of your face as quickly as possible. Probably only appropriate for use by those who simply cannot suppress their sass-mouths. Wink The flat "Wow." is extremely effective when you don't have the energy or inclination to take your (figurative) earrings out for a fight, because it gives the jerk exactly the right amount of your energy and thought: zero.

Edit:
Enail wrote:
In the same vein, I've had good success with a surprised-sounding "huh, that was rude." Possibly more success b/c it wasn't a thought-out response so much as blurting out my natural reaction.

Oh, yes! This too! I also find that genuine surprised laughter + "Really?!" has a pretty disarming effect.
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Responding to Jerks Empty Re: Responding to Jerks

Post by Guest on Sat Oct 04, 2014 11:03 am

When I'm lubricated with alcohol enough to give me the guts, I use the method my Dad does - start with "Oi!" just loud enough to cut above any chatter that's continuing in the wake of the jerkish comment and specifically call out the comment. Bonus points for attracting the attention of one or two nearby to help focus eyes on whoever said the jerkish thing.

It's worked pretty well so far, but I personally need a little bit of liquid courage for me to mange doing it.

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