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Etiquette in dealing with offensive co-workers

Published:Tuesday | March 29, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichelle Parkes

All of us occasionally deal with being stung by an insulting remark. Sometimes we don't think of the perfect response until several days after the initial insult. Or we may instantly fire off a sharp retort which leaves everyone around us stunned, and the person that tossed out the snide remark suddenly becomes the victim.

While being on the receiving end of an insult can be jarring, if you're routinely around a person who dishes out cutting remarks, it pays to be prepared. Here are some ways to respond the next time someone says something rude:

- Ask yourself what the 'intent' is for the other person. Is it an innocent attempt at a conversation starter, or a mean-spirited remark? Is it their way of showing dominance, or are they just displaying a lack of good judgement? If the remark is a one-time offence, you may want to give him or her the benefit of the doubt and let it go.

- Think before you react. Rather than mouthing off with a flip comment you may later regret, take a breath, compose yourself and concentrate on what you really want to say. Thoughtfully neutralise the remark by saying, "I'm not sure I understand what you are trying to say to me."

- Keep your game face on. Don't show that the remark has upset you by resorting to a fit of anger, welling up with tears, or throwing an outright temper tantrum. You lose your power when you become overly emotional. If you think you're about to let bruised feelings get the best of you, excuse yourself and regain your composure.

- Address the issue privately. If someone consistently makes disparaging remarks about you in front of your co-workers, calmly ask to speak with them privately. Find a public place to meet and let them know you don't appreciate their comments. It shows consideration not to call them out in front of the entire group. Let them know your expectations and request they immediately cease and desist. Clearly mention that the next time it happens, you will be forced to take it to the next level of authority.

- Don't laugh. Polite, sensitive people tend to want to smooth things over and find themselves uncomfortably laughing along rather than showing their distaste. If you don't think a remark is funny, or find it to be offensive, don't feel obligated to laugh or smile. You can send a powerful message with silence or by immediately moving on to another topic. Removing yourself from the situation is another good option.

- Set boundaries. If you know your co-worker likes to push your buttons at employee events, take matters in your own hands and say, "John, I am asking you to kindly keep the focus of your conversation off of me. I would appreciate it if you would positively interact with the rest of our team and allow all of us to enjoy the team-building event."

Rest assured, the insults are ultimately not about you. It's always about the other person. Some people simply try to make others feel bad so they can feel better about themselves. Don't allow someone else's opinion to influence the rest of your day. Take actionable steps, even when the step is to ignore the other person.

- Michelle Parkes is a certified etiquette consultant. She can be reached at bright.sparkes