You Don’t Owe Anyone a Response
From the blowhard at the dinner party to the troll online, often the best response is none at all.
I was recently reminded of the fact that not everyone deserves a response from me. This happened in the wake of being trolled online. My troll has contacted me over and over, sending email after email, all with malicious intent. I can’t block his emails as he sends them from different accounts. So I have two choices. I can engage with him or I can ignore him. I’ve chosen the latter. It’s called giving someone the cold shoulder for a reason. Attention is warm and cuddly. A cold shoulder is not.
Word around town is that ghosting is mean, irresponsible, and yet another fine example of human beings not holding ourselves accountable. But to whom? What if the person demanding your response isn’t worthy of your accountability?
This might sound evil, but so are the actions of someone who is making every effort to manipulate a situation to their benefit. People are like this. They want to get a rise out of you. They need attention. God forbid they’re simply someone who likes to debate. Our society requires debate to keep it honest. I still don’t owe anyone a response, though, just because they’re breathing.
Sure, in a perfect world, a carefully crafted, well-thought out reply, sugarcoated with lots of polite language, is the best way to go. God knows I choose this route often. Even with difficult people, it’s the mark of an evolved person to respond to ugliness in a graceful fashion.
But the world is not perfect. More often than not, it’s best to just ignore people when they’re being jerks.
There’s a reason this reaction is so effective. Let me tell you a cute story from when I was a baby. I was in my high chair with my parents at a restaurant. My fork dropped off my high-chair tray table to the floor. A kind man at another table picked it up for me and put it back on my tray. Of course I immediately threw my fork back down again. The kind gentleman picked it up. I threw it back down. He picked it up. On and on. What a delightful game! My mother finally told this kind gentleman to stop picking up my fork. Game over.
What I’m trying to say is that adults play this game, too. They toss a ball. My turn to throw it back. What if I don’t want to play? Pick up your own effing fork. You don’t get your ball back just because you threw it my way. Guess what — I’m keeping your ball.
This is a big problem for women. Our mothers taught us to be polite. My mother taught me to be nice to everyone. If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all. The problem is not everybody’s mother taught them the same lesson. So how to react when someone’s not playing by the same rules?
Refuse to play.
This got me thinking about other times in my life when someone has expected a answer from me. They’ve asked a question that has put me on the spot at a dinner party or during a writer’s group meeting—a question meant to humiliate me, make me look stupid, or just make me uncomfortable, because some people actually get off on doing this. Or they’re simply too tone deaf to realize they’ve asked something that will obviously made me red in the face to answer in front of all these people. So forget it, I’m not answering, and I’m not going to feel badly about it either.
What about a situation like I had in the family I used to be married into. Bless their hearts, that family loves to argue. Debate, for them, is an art form. They actually enjoy argument as a pastime. Not me. I don’t like being asked to swat back a ball to defend some idea when I’m not prepared — some idea that is being challenged for the sole fact that my questioner loves to debate. So guess what, how about no response?
It seems obnoxious to just ignore people — to give them the cold shoulder. But just like my mother taught me to be nice to people, she also taught me to ignore nonsense and thus the creator of such nonsense would go away. So just like your mom, this female writer of a certain age is here to remind you that it’s perfectly okay to just brush off people. You don’t owe anyone a response.
I had another experience a few years back with a client, who was a serious schmuck. I knew this, but because I was trying to keep the lights on in my house, I worked with him. I finally got tired of his abrasive comments and said something snippy in response. He lost it. Suddenly, I was the rude one. Of course he had other problems, and yes I should’ve controlled myself, but now he was literally threatening to ruin my business.
I tried to get him to stop overreacting through a variety of different means. I first reacted with anger, then I tried to negotiate. I even tried to apologize. Nothing would calm him down.
Yup, he wrote up a bad review of my business. He threatened to slander my name. I was worried and asked my ex-husband for advice about what to do. My ex and I were no longer married but still friends and successfully co-parenting.
His advice was that when the next email came through from my client, threatening me, to just ignore it.
Just like that: don’t respond.
Of course I was worried. What would happen if I didn’t answer? What if ignoring him made this man even crazier?
But my other methods weren’t working either, so I had nothing to lose. He was beyond reason, so with his next email, I tried this technique. I just ignored him. And you know what happened? Nothing.
Yes, a few days later, I received another angry email. The difference was this time I felt more confident. I had no trouble ignoring that email, too.
A few more days went by, and I received another email. This time there was no question in my mind. Of course I ignored it.
I waited for bad things to happen. I waited for him to show up on my doorstep. I waited for my other clients to take their business elsewhere. Whatever happened, I would survive. But I was steadfast about not engaging with this man anymore.
And guess what? After that, nothing. No more emails.
Either he wasn’t never serious about harming my business or it was just a game to begin. Sometimes people really are this bored, lonely and unhappy.
Try it yourself. Next time someone tries to engage you in a way that’s unacceptable, ignore them. You don’t owe anyone response.