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Miss Conduct

Advice: How to reject disrespect

There’s nothing wrong with pushing back publicly at rudeness. Here are a few ways to do it.

Need advice? Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

My brother-in-law is condescending, rude, and a know-it-all — not with my sister or my father, only my mother and me. I genuinely dread being around him. Some years ago, I told him that I don’t like the way he talks down to me. Things improved for a while, but now are worse than ever. I have never spoken with my sister about it, though I feel upset that she doesn’t stick up for my mother or me. Part of me wants to talk to him again, but part of me thinks it’s useless and this is just who he is. What to do?

B.W. / Bedford

Funny-not-funny how it’s always the jerks in our midst who get the privilege of being “just who they are,” isn’t it? What if being the kind of person who snaps back, hard, any time she’s treated disrespectfully is “just who you are”? And everyone in the family had to simply accept that about you and learn to watch their step. And if B.W. flips a table at a family gathering, well, that’s just who she is and people should know better than to mansplain Brexit to her.

I’m not suggesting actually flipping tables, but I would like to flip the false dichotomy of your question. You don’t have to either accept his rudeness or have an earnest talk with him — revealing your own vulnerabilities — to get him to change. Instead, respond to the rudeness in the moment. Laugh in his face. Leave the room. Continue talking when interrupted and raise your volume. Remove all energy and emotion from your voice and respond to him only in stock phrases: “Is that so?” “Huh.” “How about that.” “You could be right.”

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You’re not required to take seriously the opinions of someone who doesn’t take you seriously, nor to repair the awkward moments caused by others.

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You might want to have a heart-to-heart with your sister about her mister, but hold off on that until you’ve tried pushing back with him publicly. Seeing how she reacts to that will give you more insight on ways to approach the conversation.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.