People are messy creatures. We’re impulsive, reactionary, and prone to conflict.
That can be a big problem if you are someone who is witnessing the bad behavior of another and want to intervene.
Calling someone out on their bad behavior can cover a wide range of offenses and behaviors. And here’s the problem: it can make things a whole lot worse.
Furthermore, if you’re dealing with a stranger, you have absolutely no idea what that person is capable of doing. A person who is raging or acting badly in public is already demonstrating they are not concerned with social norms. They may be mentally unstable, high, violent, or some combination of those things.
Sheltered people commonly say the same thing: “If I saw someone doing XYZ, I would get involved.”
Okay. If you are one of these people, and you do witness one of those situations, ask yourself the following question: “Am I okay with getting shot or stabbed over this? Am I okay not going home to my family members over this?”
Because the reality is, that’s your worst-case scenario.
Unless you are already at risk of being harmed, it’s typically not worth the risk to get involved. If it’s really a problem or someone is acting unstable, it’s a far better idea to get away from the situation and notify authorities so they can deal with it. They have the training, equipment, and authority to do it. You don’t.
So, how do you know when to call someone out on their bad behavior? And how do you do it?
1. Consider what you’re hoping to accomplish.
What are you trying to accomplish by calling someone out on their behavior?
Some conflicts can be a complete waste of time, like arguing on social media. It means nothing to anyone, and no one is ever convinced by being corrected. All you really end up doing is getting into an argument over nothing that goes nowhere, that serves no purpose. You disturb your peace by engaging in pointless conflicts.
Don’t just react from impulse. Know what you’re aiming to accomplish before you engage. Are you trying to defuse the situation? Stop a bad thing from happening? Are you the person that should be doing it?
2. Be okay with repercussions for getting involved.
Most things aren’t going to be life or death, but speaking up publicly can still expose you to unintended consequences. Consider the following examples.
The boss is kind of a jerk. He talks down to and basically bullies one of his subordinates. You speak up on behalf of the subordinate, and now you become the target for his behavior. He nitpicks your work, negatively reviews it, and may look for a way to get rid of you because of it. In that scenario, quietly reporting the situation to HR may be a far better option than direct confrontation.
You see your friend’s spouse out with another person. Dutifully, you inform your friend about what you saw. Friend confronts their spouse, spouse lies and says that you’re making things up. Spouse convinces friend that you’re trying to meddle in the relationship because you want to get in their pants. The spouse tells your friends circle that you’re making up lies about them. Friend and friends circle side with the spouse, you lose all of those friends, and friend stays with their spouse. “But they weren’t your real friends!” Don’t bullsh*t yourself. They were your friends. They are also people who were swayed by the lies of a manipulator. That can happen to anyone.
People always talk about how important it is to do the right thing. However, they leave out that doing the right thing is rarely easy or positive. The person doing the right thing often suffers blowback from people who have a vested interest in the bad actions.
Know that you may very well come out of the situation as the bad guy in the short term. It often takes a while for people to really see what is going on.
3. Do not engage while angry.
It is imperative that you are calm and collected when calling someone out on their bad behavior. If you go in angry, they will immediately see it as an attack, and the whole situation can escalate out of control quickly.
The point of calling someone out on their bad behavior is to get the person to realize that they are doing the wrong thing. That goal becomes impossible when the other person feels attacked because they will likely respond with anger or denial.
They may also see no problem with their actions, so they will dig in and justify their behavior instead of examining it or changing it.
4. You might be wrong.
Be aware that you may not have all of the information about the situation. You may see something, see it as wrong, but have missed something important.
The benefit of going in calm is that you are better positioned to apologize and back out if you find out that you are wrong. There’s no shame in doing that.
Be willing to listen and hear out the person you think is doing the wrong thing. You may find that they have a legitimate grievance, even if they aren’t handling it in the best way. Or maybe they have every right to be angry and confrontational about what they’re dealing with.
5. Have a Plan B.
Confrontation doesn’t always work out. You will likely need to find a different approach or change the way you engage with someone close to you.
Sometimes, you can’t just cut the person out of your life. You’ll have to deal with them regularly. For example, it might be a family member or coworker. So, if you do confront them and it doesn’t go well, you may want to reduce contact with them to avoid their behavior.
You don’t have to be involved or let yourself get pulled into the drama. An excellent tactic for dealing with that behavior is to “gray rock” them. The gray rock is a common method for navigating narcissists and other destructive people. Simply put, you make yourself as interesting as a gray rock. You don’t expose anything personal to them, answer all of their questions in very general terms, be extremely polite and unemotional, and let them get bored with you. Then, just shrug and move on.
I want to get meta with you here for a moment to speak to you as the person behind the writing. I read several articles on this subject to see what other people were saying before writing. And almost all of them are filled with bad, naive advice that can get you hurt or killed. I have Bipolar Disorder. I’ve lived in poverty. I’ve been around many people who are impulsive, drug users, mentally ill, and who had little to nothing to lose.
One of the articles I read in my research advised, and I quote, “The only exception to this? If you see something actually illegal. If you see someone steal, harm, assault, or do anything else that is against the law to another person or property, confront them right away (after you tell the proper authorities depending on the severity).”
Let me tell you how that works in the real world.
A friend of mine witnessed a guy hit his girlfriend and decided to intervene. He went up behind the guy and put his hand on the guy’s shoulder to turn him around. The abuser swung and hit him as he turned, knocking my friend down. And then he stomped on my friend’s head. The cops show up. The guy claims self-defense. My friend goes to the hospital with a severe concussion.
No charges. The only witness is the girlfriend who backs up her boyfriend’s story. Never said anything about the abuse, just that my friend came up behind her boyfriend and put his hands on him.
Guy had been in and out of jail for years before that. Violence was nothing for him. For my friend? I don’t think my friend ever threw a punch in his life. His reward for his involvement was a head injury that’s given him cognitive impairment, seizures, and memory loss. And still, he’s lucky the guy didn’t pull a knife or a gun instead of just swinging.
“See something, say something!” “If you see illegal activity, get involved!” Ignorant bullsh*t said by sheltered, naive people to other sheltered people who don’t know any better.
This isn’t a movie. Confront the wrong person, and you can wind up dead.
If you see something: get to safety, call the police if warranted, and make yourself scarce.
Don’t be out there confronting strangers! You have absolutely no idea what that person is capable of. They could be drunk, methed out, unstable, armed, dangerous, or any combination of those things. Catching an assault charge is nothing to some people.
Don’t be a hero. Think before you engage. Be wise. Be safe. Go home to your family in one piece.
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- How To Deal With Someone Who Repeatedly Disrespects Your Boundaries
- How To Overcome Your Fear Of Confrontation And Deal With Conflict