Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

A Guide To Anger, Conflict and Respect


For the past few weeks we have been thinking about criticism.

We noted that one reason that criticism is hard to bear for many of us is because of the way many people often provide criticism.  Because it is often provided with shouting, glares, name calling and threats it is understandable that you might start to get defensive as soon as you begin to hear someone criticizing you.  But these negative actions don’t have to be part of negative criticism.

People who are masters at dealing with criticism are confident that they are fully prepared to carry out a plan that can effectively deal with any negative actions. Moreover, they are confident that they can carry out the plan in a manner that will enhance their reputation and protect their personal freedom.

This plan can take a variety of forms.  What might feel right for one person might not feel right to another.  And so, here I will propose a plan that is just a starting point for your consideration.

The Plan

When you are being criticized in a manner that you don’t like, this is NOT the time to criticize the criticizer’s style.  The first thing to do is to model for the criticizer a high level of maturity in responding to criticism.   Here’s what that might look like:

Listen to the criticizer in a supportive, warm, friendly style.  Then make it clear that you fully understand what was said.  This means that you summarize what you heard and ask if your summary is accurate.  Then spend some time showing that you are thinking about the criticism by pausing, perhaps rubbing your chin and asking a question or two to clarify the criticizer’s position.  If, after thinking about the criticism, the criticism is deemed to be correct, make a statement that frankly indicates the ideas have merit and you intend to use them in the future.  If you are not sure if you agree, make a statement indicating that you are very interested in what was said, you plan to think a little more about this over the next few days and then you’ll be ready to discuss this further.  If after thinking about the criticism you feel the criticism is incorrect, make a statement designed to disagree without being disagreeable.  More specifically, a sense of humor, some listening in a caring way and a few smiles help to traverse rough terrain.  As the episode winds down, encouraged the criticizer to feel comfortable communicating suggestions in the future.

Now that you have modeled how to respond to criticism in a mature manner, wait until the insulter has had some time to calm down.  Then you can negotiate from a position of strength.  Begin by first asking yourself what you didn’t like about how you had been treated and how you wish to be treated in the future if a similar set of circumstances should arise.  Then consider having the following discussion with the criticizer:

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Once you made your position clear, listen to the reply in a caring way.  Some of the reply might be negative criticism of the approach that you are advocating.  Respond in a way that matches the response to negative criticism that I described above.

You now have had an opportunity to look over this plan.  Over the course of the following week, if you will, think about what you like about this plan, what doesn’t feel right to you, and how you would change it.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on.  This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence.  To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


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  1. I agree with you Jeff, our behavioral responses to unpleasant situations have a great deal of influence for the consequences.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ugo. I think you would also agree that to learn new behavioral responses to unpleasant situations oftentimes requires practice. It is my hope that this blog will “coach” people to practice these skills.

      By the way, I’ve been to your home town of Tucson and it’s really a fun place.

      My Best, Jeff

  2. One thing that I feel needs to be addressed here is how, when we are being criticized, oftentimes feelings of defensiveness begin to rise up within us. It’s not always so easy to carry out the plan you’ve illustrated in this blog because sometimes intense sensations of angst or anger are coursing through our veins while we’re being criticized.

    • Yes, JSR, you are correct that when we are criticized, oftentimes feelings of defensiveness begin to rise up within us. That is why learning a new plan can be challenging. The first step is to recognize that how you have been acting is not ideal. The second step is to identify a plan that you have become convinced is worth trying. The third step is to recognize that even if you are willing to try a new plan, you may not be able to instantly carry it out because of the sensations of angst or anger that rise up while you are being criticized. There is a fourth step that I’ve been touching upon from time to time on this blog.

      So far on the blog I have been coaching readers to take the first three steps and letting them know that they will have to go through a series of practice steps before they can smoothly implement the complete four-step plan. In the next few blog posts I will be putting forth a clearer picture of what actions might be better than defensiveness. I have to be very precise about this. Just saying general things like, “act cool” just doesn’t work for most people. Then I will begin to clearly present ideas to take the fourth step. At that time, some practice strategies that won’t cost you a dime will be presented.

      If you are eager to get on to try one of the strategies at step four, here’s a simple one. Write about the last time you were criticized, and how you acted and (this is crucial) how you also felt. Then write how you would prefer to act the next time a similar situation occurs. Be very specific, coming up with the actual words you want to use and the expression you want to have on your face. Then, close your eyes and go through the interaction you had, but this time imagine you are using your new set of actions. Practice this in your mind three times, and do it again on three more days.

      There is far more various types of exercises to make yourself a master at dealing with actions you now experience as insults, but this is a good strategy to get you moving in the right direction.

      Thanks for your comment,

  3. Pingback: Encourage rather than criticize – Let Life in Practices

  4. I truly like what you are saying but I really do have a problem with emotional regulation which makes it very hard. I wish there was a forum where people could practice this. For me it would be helpful to just be able to do these things a less conflictual conversation than even one involving criticism. Is there any place online where this can be done? Thanks.

  5. Hi Diane Engster.

    At the bottom of each post there is a paragraph that tells you how you can begin to read my blog from my very first post. At the end of that paragraph, you will see a red HERE link. By clicking on it, it will take you to the very first post. Then, after reading the first one, when you are ready to go to the next one, all you have to do is click on the red Newer Entry link toward the bottom-right side of each post. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. If after each lesson, you practice the skills by imagining yourself in a conversation utilizing the skills, in time, you will begin to see some great improvement.

    Thanks for your question, and please feel free to ask other questions in the future.
    My Best,

  6. Pingback: RESPONDING TO INSULTS WITH QUIET SADNESS | Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

  7. Pingback: RESPONDING TO INSULTS WITH QUIET SADNESS | Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

  8. Thank you for this post and for the post ok responding with quiet sadness. I’ve tried these and other approaches and have a question. If you’ve shared with the person how their approach affects you (makes you feel sad for example) and have given examples of ways you would be more comfortable with their feedback, and their response is to say that they have done nothing wrong and they are only sharing objective feedback, what next? It is true the criticism is shared without a raised voice but otherwise the content is very hurtful but what hurts most is the cold, harsh way it is delivered. I’ve explained that if his goal is to have an impact resulting in change, he could increase that possibility with a gentler approach because I simply feel so hurt by the continued criticism. Then he says if the criticism is wrong then it’s on me to explain how he’s wrong. That requirement seems to cultivate defensiveness. In the end, when I try to explain the alternative perspective, he simply says that’s wrong and these are his objective feelings. Furthermore, he says I should care that he feels this way and if I do not like his criticism then I should work to create an environment in which he is not perceiving me the way he currently does. Otherwise, if I want to behave as I do, then he says I have to be comfortable with his critiscm. It feels like an impossible loop. I truly don’t believe that harsh criticism or critism to this degree should be present in a relationship. It is not criticism like- you never pick up your laundry. It’s more like- “your behavior is offensive and I get that you learned that as a result of your upbringing but it’s offensive to society in general.” Again, he calls these “objective facts.” I’ve tried to say that they are his perceptions and there are other ways of looking at it but he says there are no other ways of looking at it. They are impossible to refute and to live with those perceptions is painful.
    I apologize for not presenting a more precise question. I was attempting to provide clear background information to help you respond to the barriers I face.
    Thank you!

  9. Hi Polly. First of all, there is no reason to apologize. This is an open forum and feel free to express your comments, questions and concerns as you wish. My first thought is, does this guy like you? If not, why are you continuing in a relationship with him? Sometimes we continue in a relationship when one person doesn’t like the other because of work, or you both have a common goal that can be achieved better together. In these types of situations in which somebody really doesn’t like you, it seems to me that your approach would be to remain civil, and learn to accept what he says with interest, then politely summarize his position and say something like, “I’ll give what you said some thought.” Of course, if the guy is providing you too much criticism in too short a period of time, then even highly skilled people in dealing with criticism would find this hard to bear. I’ve written a blog post about this titled, “Anger, Stress and the Signalling to Back-Off Technique” ( I would like you to read that over, and if you then have some more thoughts, please do post another comment. My Best, Jeff

    • Hello again,
      Thank you for your response. I’ve spent some time considering and trying your suggestions and also reading your other post.
      To answer your question, when I consider it simply, I would say no, this person does not like me. However it must be more complex than that given this person is my husband.
      Your suggestion on a possible response does help me from having the situation escalate in the moment but I’m not sure that this is a sustainable approach in that the situations that illicit these comments from him tend to require some type action (meaning the topics can surround something we need to make a decision on). When one person views the other as he views me (which is reflected in his criticism), I’m not sure how we can be successful making decisions or together.
      I should also add that I have expressed to him that these views and statements are not conducive to a loving marriage and he insists he loves and accepts me.
      Since this person is not a colleague, does it change your advice at all?

  10. Hi Polly,

    Yes, your additional information does lead me to change my advice only in that I would add something. It is now clearer to me that both of you do have some additional reasons to continue in the relationship–a marriage, a shared household. Long term commitments make a difference when compared to a type of relationship in which someone more easily might decide to just end the relationship and find a more supportive friend.

    As I see it, correct me if I am wrong, you find that your husband’s style of criticism leads to an experience within you that is uncomfortable, perhaps even painful. Moreover you have a desire to make at least some decisions with your husband, but his style of expressing his views and statements are not conducive to this desire. I think you feel he is guilty of being insensitive to your feelings and his unwillingness to modify his style at least to some degree so that you and he can both have a more rewarding relationship.

    Obviously, I don’t have anywhere enough information about your current difficulties to offer any advice with any great assurance that my advice is the perfect advice for your situation and the person you and your husband are. That said, consider reading my post “Dealing with Emotional Pain”:

    I think there are some suggestions in that article that might be helpful. If you do read it over and decide to try some of the ideas, I’d love to find out if you indeed found them helpful.

    My Best,

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  12. Pingback: RESPONDING TO INSULTS WITH QUIET SADNESS | From Insults To Respect

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