January 15, 2013, Volume 34, Number 2

Editor’s Note by Karen Larson


Stop Ridicule


An executive with a New York company faced an unexpected problem — one of his coworkers wouldn’t stop mocking his North Carolina accent. How should he respond?


That’s what he asked his friend Mark J. Estren, who has a PhD in psychology.  He cautioned that the natural responses to ridicule — anger and defensiveness — tend to make the situation worse. Becoming angry tends to make us look foolish, and becoming defensive reinforces the ridiculer’s statements in listeners’ minds.


Estren, who has written for BOTTOMLINE/PERSONAL for more than 25 years and is coauthor with Beverly A. Potter, PhD, of QUESTION AUTHORITY TO THINK FOR YOURSELF (Ronin) suggested that his friend embrace what he was being ridiculed for.  Ply up the North Carolina accent. Make quips comparing small-town Appalachia with New York City.  It worked — the ridicule soon stopped. “Once you show that the ridicule just rolls off your back and doesn’t upset you, you take away its power to be used against you, explains Estren.


Another option is to draw out the ridiculer by asking follow-up questions. If someone says, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Ask “What makes it dumb?” Pose these follow-up questions without sarcasm or anger. Digging deeper into ridicule that was meant to cut you down conveys strength and openness on your part… and encourages the ridiculer to either reply with reason, not continued mockery, or to simply stop talking.