How to Counter Provocation and Rumor

Published on February 25, 2024, filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

I read a lot and I work heavily with reminders.

One of these reminders covers what’s effective to respond to being picked on, blamed, or (feeling) attacked. Not because I’d worry about or experience much of that behavior—but because it’s not usually being taught, and because it’s helpful to know.

Whether it is so helpful to know, I hope you to tell—here are select quotes and their sources, about countering provocation and rumor, for a different kind of Sunday blog post.

How to React When Being Picked On

[…] here’s how you fire back[.] It doesn’t matter what you say, what matters is the voice tone in which you say it. If you have a sense of confidence or power or just dismissiveness behind what you say, that’s going to be powerful.

—Aziz Gazipura: The Solution to Social Anxiety (2013).

“Wow, so you’re picking on me, does that make you feel better about yourself?” And now what is he going to do? Is he going to keep going down the track or is he going to address what you’re saying?

[…] I might keep going down that track, “Are you not feeling that significant in your life? And so by picking on me you temporarily feel better? Does it feel good to have people laughing at what you say because then you feel like they like you?”

[…] look at them and you say, “How old are you? F___.”

—Aziz Gazipura: Dealing With Critics, Haters, and Bullies (2016).

How to React When Being Accused of Something

Instead of trying to deny, defend, or minimize the rumor, which can make people believe it more, simply spread a more outrageous rumor that overshadows that one, but incorporates it as well. For instance, let’s say that a rumor going around is that you’ve been stealing from the company. Denying it can just make you “appear” guilty. Instead, you should spread the rumor that you used the “stolen money” to support your thirty-six adopted children or you used it to buy a seat on the space shuttle. Now this newer more salacious rumor is harder to believe and casts doubt about the accuracy of any of it.

—David J. Lieberman: Get Anyone to Do Anything (2010).

How to React When Feeling Attacked

The first rule of effective debate, argument, or heated conversation is to never, ever, get defensive. The minute you begin to defend yourself against an accusation, you’ve lost. Now you’re fighting uphill. […]

The other big mistake we make is to accept the person’s premise and argue from that point. For instance someone says to you, “You don’t look very good. Why don’t you take better care of yourself?” The starting point for the conversation is that you don’t look very good. That’s not the premise you want to start from […].

If you wonder how this relates to my thoughts about defensiveness, a quick way to reconcile them is to read “never to get defensive” as “to remain calm” here.

Since your objective is not to get defensive, you need to go on the offensive. This way you can defend yourself without getting defensive. When asked a question that you feel is a cheap shot respond with: “What answer would satisfy you?”

In response to something ridiculous like, “You’d be nothing without me” or “That’s so stupid what you did,” say, “You don’t even believe that’s true.” […]

Another great response is “Why would you say something like that?”

If you don’t like the question you’re asked, then don’t answer it; answer a different one. To do this, simply say something such as, “In terms of what?” or “How exactly do you mean?” […] For instance, you’re asked, “How come all of the workers are complaining about the conditions?” […] “How exactly do you mean?”

—David J. Lieberman: Get Anyone to Do Anything (2010).

❧ This reflects the reminder I’ve scheduled to get every so many days, a reminder I wish I’d have had at age 13. The three books are all great; I can recommend more (and even more).

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!