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Southern hospitality is still an institution, but there have been notable changes in recent years regarding how people deal with one another. To be fair, it isn’t a “Southern” issue; it’s a problem worldwide. It’s so prevalent that the name “Karen” has been adopted as a name used in reference to someone displaying ignorant entitlement. In this day and age of higher demands and heavy workloads, a global pandemic, bullying, road rage, and social unrest in the headlines — not to mention the anonymity afforded by the internet — there’s an ever-brewing undercurrent of strain in many of our day-to-day interactions.

Sadly, this can lead to downright nastiness, whether it involves dealing with strangers or people we know well. So, how can we handle it gracefully? Here are seven practical tools to combat negativity, some expert advice on how to do so, and a few suggestions for how not to be mean in the process.

A desk with a plant, phone, coffee mug, and computer that says, "Be Kind."

How do you handle it when someone gets mean? Whatever your approach, we can all use a little reminder to embrace kindness.

7 Practical Tools to Combat Negativity

Stay Calm

Fighting fire with fire often results in an inferno. It’s not always easy to keep our cool amid chaos, but remaining calm often keeps contentious situations from escalating. “When we can remain calm and firm when someone is being rude to us, it allows that person space to see their own rudeness,” says Barrett Freibert, a Louisville-based empowerment coach and yoga instructor. “This is what [the phrase] kill people with kindness really means. Kindness is not a weakness; it is a strength. It’s being so grounded in who you are and what you stand for, that when someone is nasty or rude to you, there is no need to be rude or nasty back.”

Breathe through it, get centered, find your happy place, and know that you’re taking the high road.

RELATED: Have You Ever Heard of a Friendship Bench?

Set Healthy Boundaries

When it comes to those nearest and dearest to you, it can be downright gut-wrenching when there’s conflict. When family members are determined to argue about politics on social media, for example, it may seem like the next family reunion is in peril. But rest assured, there are ways to move past the drama — namely, you should resist the urge to perpetuate it but be firm about where you stand.

“To disarm someone who is being rude, I would use healthy boundary setting to navigate the situation,” says Madison Fisher, Clinical Intern at Evolve Counseling Associates in Nashville. “Recognize the difference between unsolvable versus solvable worries. There are times that require confrontation and times when taking a step back and distancing can be more emotionally healthy for you. You know yourself, so check in with yourself and assess whether or not confrontation will mitigate your distress. Additionally, advocating for people without a voice is one of our values as professional counselors. Our profession is based on the ideals that everyone has a story that is important to tell. Recommend therapy as an option to a friend [or family member] who is perpetually angry or simply needs the space to process with an empathetic witness.”

Validate with Active Listening

Sometimes all someone needs is a listening ear, which can account for misguided and misdirected outbursts. “When someone is upset, the most valuable thing you can do is ask if they want someone to listen or help them solve a problem,” says Devon Bridgwaters, a licensed professional counselor and Mental Health Service Provider for Evolve Counseling.

“Often, as humans, our first inclination is to jump to fixing; however, problem-solving without validation can be invalidating. Sometimes, the solution is to channel your active listening skills and increase your empathy meter before offering solutions. While you may disagree with what someone is saying, you can attempt to understand their perspective, indicate that you care, and treat them with respect.”

Devon recommends utilizing statements such as, “I can tell this is important to you,” “It makes sense you would feel (insert sentiment here),” “That sounds really hard,” “How can I support you right now?”, and “Can you tell me more about that?”

Stick with Honesty

Some situations call for speaking out rather than holding your tongue. If you find yourself in that situation, choose your words carefully — honesty is the best policy. As Barrett’s mother has always told her, “Say what you mean and don’t say it mean.” The same goes for written confrontation. In a world where social media offers people carte blanche to hide behind their screens, it seems apropos to acknowledge the importance of mindful speech and mindful writing. If someone accosts you via social media, what can you do?

Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian Leslie Jordan, who’s doing a show at The Ryman in Nashville later this month, handles it with impeccable Southern charm. “I usually just ignore it, and I try not to engage,” says the Chattanooga-born star, “or I kill them with kindness: ‘Hey, friend. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t write unpleasant things on my page. It’s so unnecessary and brings out the worst in all of us. Thank yeeeew!'” Additionally, Leslie says one good question that stops a lot of people is, “Who raised you? What would they think of this awful behavior? My goodness, gracious!” The moral of the story? Be firm; be charming; be honest. 

Practice Patience + Empathy

Patience seems to be harder and harder to come by. We text, email, and Slack for quicker responses, we check the news on our cell phones for immediate gratification, and we even microwave food so we can get it on our tables in record time. Road rage runs rampant because everyone’s in a rush to get where they’re going. So, how does that affect our ability to handle mean people, you ask? We forget to acknowledge that other people have their share of challenges, too.

“We are living in unprecedented times during which we are faced with a multitude of stressors individually and collectively,” says Devon. “Many of us are being pushed beyond our capacity to cope with distress, and we’re moving into heightened states of worry or disconnectedness. Right now, patience with ourselves and others is more necessary than ever. While it may not happen overnight, it is possible to build a tolerance to uncomfortable emotions and build skills to help regulate yourself. Start by acknowledging your emotions and listening to what they are trying to tell you before moving into action or strategy mode. Once you’re aware, it’s easier to cater to your needs — be it with mindful meditation, problem-solving, self-soothing, setting healthy boundaries, engaging in self-care practices, or reaching out for support from a loved one or therapist.”

RELATED: 5 Things You Need to Stop Saying

Be Kind Do Good. (And If All Else Fails, Employ Humor)

Our StyleBlueprint motto is Be Kind Do Good. It’s easy to become cynical when there are so many heavy things going on in the world, but spreading positivity is always a step in the right direction. Accompanying kindness with a healthy dose of humor sometimes works, too!

For example, event designer and lifestyle expert Hugh Howser of H Three Events explains his method of handling bridezillas. “I can typically smooth it over with humor,” he says, “and if they keep it up, I tell them I hope it rains at their wedding!” Jokes aside, his go-to method for dealing with nasty clients is knowing when to draw the line. “We fire them,” he tells us. “I have too much fun planning for them to waste my time. We honestly have to send them out into the wild blue yonder!”

Woman in black Be Kind Do Good T-shirt and hoop earrings.

Our StyleBlueprint CEO and Founder, Liza Graves, says, “StyleBlueprint started Be Kind Do Good as a direct response to the heightened rhetoric of today’s world. It reminds us all that being kind and actively looking to do good in the world provides the lens and attitude that, when embraced, allows us to disagree and have difficult conversations, but with respect. We also get to raise money for charity with this line, as 100% of the profits are donated, which is really great as well!” Image: SB Shop

Let it Go

Sometimes the best way to handle mean, aggressive people is to ignore them and let it go. Walk away knowing you’re taking the high road. Barrett explains that nine times out of 10, it has everything to do with the person who’s being rude and nothing to do with you. “People treat others the way they treat themselves,” she says. “One of my favorite philosophies to live by is ‘QTIP. Quit Taking It Personally.’ This is one of the tenets of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, a book I have all my clients read. When we see this and embody it, our life transforms. We can allow nasty people and situations to roll off our backs. When we do, we save energy to focus on creating what we do want in our lives. When we give our focus to nasty people or situations, we also give our power away. Energy flows where attention goes. So be mindful of where you allow your thoughts and conversations to go. It is healthy to vent. However, when all we do is vent about nasty people, we are telling the universe we want more of that!”

As we all attempt to communicate from behind our masks, phones, and computers, there’s a lot of space for missed social cues. We go about our daily routines with our minds set on the end game — finishing the workday or school day, completing the next project, and hitting the pillow in exhaustion at the end of it all. And it all leads to a sense of disconnection. Now, more than ever, there’s a deep-seated need for more human kindness — there’s the hope that these challenges will lead us to a world with more patience, empathy, and self-awareness.

So, look out, world! Our collective kindness is coming for you!

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