How to respond to insults and backhanded compliments
What is the best and most elegant way to respond to an insult or a backhanded compliment?
In the best case scenario, you’ll have a moment of brilliance and wittiness and respond to your adversary with a devastating comeback they can’t recover from.
A good example of this is when President Nixon once described former Canadian Prime-Minister Pierre Trudeau as an “a**hole”, to which Trudeau would later respond “I’ve been called worse by better men”.
Unfortunately, not everybody is naturally witty; and even people who are witty aren’t capable of having a clever comeback for each and every single insult thrown their way. Sometimes, the best way to respond to an insult is to deflect it and prevent the insult from damaging your ego and social standing.
Another thing to take into account is that not all insults are obvious. Some are dressed up as compliments, but are in reality designed to bring you down a peg. These are called “backhanded compliments” and usually work by making your notable achievements seem like random luck, and that your default state is that of being mediocre (at best).
Examples of backhanded compliments:
- Your Facebook makes you look so fun!
- Wow, I didn’t expect you to get the job – congrats!
- You must be so popular to go out alone at a bar!
- You look so much more awake with makeup!
As a result, the best way to respond to insults and backhanded compliments is to use a few simple and easy to use verbal jiu-jitsu strategies that can defuse an insult, turn the tables on your opponent and generally turn you into Teflon-man or Teflon-girl nobody can seem to touch.
Agree and amplify (to absurdity)
The idea of “agree and amplify” is that you take whatever insult or backhanded compliment is thrown at you, agree with it and then amplify it’s meaning so much that the end result is fun, absurd, meaningless or all three at once.
Example 1: You’re at a social gathering and someone says “Wow, I didn’t think you were so short!”. A good agree & amplify response would be “Yeah, I paid my way through college working at the midget circus”.
Example 2: A family member wrongly (or rightly) says “You’re such an incredibly lazy person”. A good agree & amplify response would be “I know, I worked hard to be like this”.
Agree and amplify works because you basically make fun of the insult and exaggerate it to absurd levels so much that the insult simply loses its meaning.
Not only that, but agree & amplify shows that you’re comfortable in your own skin and that insults aren’t capable of rocking your inner boat.
The main idea of a pressure flip is that you instantly respond to an insult, backhanded compliment or loaded question and then turn the tables on your adversary by launching your own verbal jab.
By doing this, you don’t give them the time to think about your answer and “flip the pressure” on them to quickly come up with a reply to your own verbal jab.
Example 1: “Look at how you look, nobody will ever love you!”. A good pressure flip would be “I’ll be fine don’t worry, but have people only loved you for your appearance?”
Example 2: “I never thought you would be so lazy!”. A good pressure flip would be “guess I am, why do you like so work so hard?”
Example 3: “Wow, I didn’t expect you to pass the test!”. A good pressure flip would be “yeah easily did you pass yours?”
Example 4: “You’re hypocrite for saying that!”. A good pressure flip would be “before I confirm, can you repeat what I said to see if you understood everything?”
With a pressure flip, you turn the tables on the other person and force them to either talk about themselves or justify their actions. As they talk, the focus of the conversation moves away from you onto them.
Sometimes the best way to tackle an insult is to demand it stops immediately. It’s not a subtle approach, but it works because you have a right to be respected as a person, and demand that respect be upheld.
Example 1: “You’re such a hypocrite for saying that!”. A good reply would be “Arguing about this is fine, but insulting each other won’t help with anything so stop doing it in the future.”
Example 2: “Haha, remember when you so stupid and did X?” A good reply would be “Jokes aside, I’d appreciate it if you don’t call me that anymore.”
Another reason the “command respect” approach works is that it puts the other person on the spot. It forces them to analyze their own behavior and hopefully come to terms with the fact that their approach to conflict isn’t healthy and ultimately destructive.
Change the subject
This one is self explanatory. It works best when the insult or backhanded compliment were said as a passing joke in the middle of a conversation. Another good opportunity to use “change the subject” is when the other person really just wanted to vent, but worded the complaint in such a way that it sounded like an insult.
Example 1: “You’re a complete and total waste of space, do you know that?” A good reply would be “Noted, so have you heard about the new Michael Jackson song?”
Example 2: “I wonder if you’d be able to speak more clearly if your parents were second cousins instead of first.” A good reply would be “It’s the third option, so do you want tacos or not?”
At the most basic level, “change the subject” works as a conversational filter. A lot of the times, the insult or verbal jab is unimportant, so the other person will forget about it and switch the conversation over to whatever topic you chose.
This is a win for you, since you don’t have to bother with small, negatively charged conversations that go nowhere and can focus on other, more constructive conversations.
If however, the underlying topic was important, the other person will resist you changing the subject and press you on whatever is on their mind.
Be indifferent and shrug off the insult
Many insults are not even worth acknowledging they exist, let alone bothering with finding a reply to them.
In these situations, it’s best to just ignore the insult altogether. Simply brush it off altogether and continue whatever you were doing. If the insult or question was outright dumb, you could even let hang in the air so everyone can soak in just how terrible the “joke” was.
By ignoring the insult, you imply it is not worth your attention or effort to reply to.
If you strongly feel the need to say something, any one of the following will do:
- “Eh, whatever”
- “Uhh, right”
- Laugh it off