Pettiness is an annoyance more than anything else.
Petty people are often miserable, insecure people who need to take their misery out on others.
After all, if they can’t be happy, why should anyone else be?
Instead of taking up their displeasure directly with those who might be causing it, or seeking help for their problems, they choose to take it out on others.
This pettiness often manifests as indirect actions and manipulations that harm you. But sometimes, it crosses over into more direct actions aimed at harming you to bring you down to their level.
The good news is there are easy ways to spot and handle petty people. So let’s get right into it.
How do you spot a petty person?
A petty person will be obvious if you understand what to look for. They often exhibit more than one trait.
It’s normal for people to have a bad day, make a bad decision, or accidentally treat others poorly.
However, petty people exhibit multiple behaviors and they aren’t usually apologetic for their actions.
Or, if they are apologetic, they will blame their actions on you (e.g., “If you hadn’t done X, I wouldn’t have had to do Y”). Their apologies ring hollow because they’re just going through the motions; they’re not actually sorry.
So, what should you look for to identify a petty person?
1. They hold grudges, even for little things.
Petty people hold grudges because it gives them ammunition to use against you later.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the grievance is, they will hold on to it.
You may apologize, but it’s never good enough. They may not accept your apology, or they will accept your apology but still use it against you later.
They may even hold grudges against people they’ve never met or interacted with, like celebrities, entertainers, or influencers.
2. They seek revenge.
They often feel justified in seeking revenge for grievances done to them, even if apologies are made and the situation is made right.
They can’t let an accidental slight go until they balance the scales or tip them in their favor.
It doesn’t matter how serious the grievance is, either. It can be the most minor slight, and they still demand blood for it.
3. They are easily offended.
Offense is a nebulous thing that can be bent to fit any whim. That makes it an ideal tool in the petty person’s toolbox because they can move the goalposts when they feel they are losing control.
They will often be angry about small things that other people wouldn’t be angry about. “I’m offended” just means, “I’m angry about what you’ve said or done, and now you have to deal with my anger.”
Adults need to learn to deal with their emotions. No one is owed caretaking.
4. They nitpick.
Small problems and minor mistakes happen. Emotionally healthy people will look at these things and either fix them or move on. They aren’t worth the time and emotional energy to make a big thing out of.
Petty people, on the other hand, will blow these minor things up into major problems, usually centered around how it inconveniences them or makes the other person look incompetent.
5. They are overly competitive.
Petty people are often trying to make up for something missing in them. Their insecurities surface when they feel they are in competition because they want to make themselves feel better.
They may also turn events that are not competitions into competitions so they can “win.”
It may also be a minor event. For example, some people take casual sports too seriously because they try to be a competitor when no one else is.
There’s nothing wrong with a friendly competition as long as everyone is competing fairly.
6. They spread and engage in gossip.
Have you heard the latest? A petty person will ensure you do if you are within their gossip circle.
They always have something negative to say about the target of their ire, usually behind their back.
But, on the other hand, they may smile at that person’s face and act like their friend to get the juicy details and laugh about them behind their back.
7. They display jealousy quite openly.
Petty people are often miserable people who are jealous of others. They can never be happy for themselves or other people. Instead, they look at what other people have—what they don’t have—and covet them.
They may also envy trivial matters and try to undermine and sabotage others so that they fail.
8. They use passive-aggressive tactics.
Passive-aggressive behavior includes snide comments, sarcasm, or silent treatment to express frustration or anger.
Instead of being an adult about their problems, they metaphorically hold their breath to make other people care about their issues.
This is easier to identify when they use passive-aggressiveness to dismiss others or amplify minor concerns.
9. They are vindictive.
Vindictive people go out of their way to make things difficult for others. Most of the time, this vindictiveness doesn’t benefit them.
Petty people are the type who would want to deprive opportunities to others because they don’t have the same opportunities or won’t get their way.
They want other people to suffer because they are bitter. And they will usually view this as a positive trait or a victory.
10. They show a lack of empathy.
Petty people struggle to understand how their actions and behaviors affect others. They may have a difficult time seeing things from other people’s perspectives.
Typically, they will engage in selfish, thoughtless behavior because they prioritize their interests and desires over those of others.
They often aren’t concerned with how their actions hurt other people.
How do you deal with a petty person?
Petty people can cause a lot of problems in your life. Understanding how to navigate these people will help you minimize the harm they can do to your life, reputation, or aspirations.
Remember, they often act indirectly and behind your back, so some preemptive measures are helpful.
With that in mind, how do you deal with petty people?
1. Keep your distance.
Avoid spending time around the petty person. The less time you spend around them, the less opportunity they have to learn your business or get in your way.
That may be going no-contact, distancing yourself emotionally, or just minimizing interactions with them.
Common advice is to go no-contact, but that isn’t always realistic. Sometimes you’re tied to someone for reasons outside of your control. For example, you can’t just go no-contact with your boss and expect that to work out for you.
2. Set healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are an important part of any healthy relationship. They become even more important when you’re trying to navigate difficult relationships with other people.
Setting boundaries with a petty person is more difficult than a healthy relationship. It’s likely best to identify your boundaries while defining how you intend to respond to a future violation.
Then keep that information to yourself and actively avoid telling the petty person what those boundaries are. The reason is that they are likely to take those boundaries, look for loopholes, argue them, or otherwise use them to gossip about you.
Frankly, they don’t need to know if they aren’t going to act in good faith, which they probably won’t. Figure out what you’re unwilling to tolerate, what you’ll do about it, and then stick to it.
3. Avoid getting defensive.
A petty person will likely want to get under your skin to provoke a reaction.
Their strategy is often to nitpick at things until you finally lose your patience. That way, they can gasp and tell everyone how unreasonable you’re being for attacking them!
Instead, try to be calm and collected, and avoid getting defensive. The calmer you can stay, the less ammunition you’ll give them.
4. Don’t take it personally.
Their pettiness does not reflect on you as a person at all. They are acting this way because of some problem that they have. That often ties into insecurities that they haven‘t yet dealt with.
It becomes much easier to not take it personally if you can maintain that perspective and know they are acting badly because of their problems. It has nothing to do with you at all.
5. Practice empathy.
Practicing empathy for a petty person giving you a hard time will be incredibly difficult. However, the best time to practice empathy is when experiencing a hard time with another person.
Notice the word “practice” in there. That’s because we need to practice empathy to be good at it.
Miserable people who act miserably are often people who need empathy the most. However, that does not mean you should accept bad behavior or not have boundaries!
Empathy does not mean you allow yourself to be a doormat or a victim! It’s just a good idea to consider what causes them to be rude and petty.
6. Don’t stoop to their level.
Firing back with as much pettiness as they throw at you will be tempting. Though you may feel justified in doing so, don’t do it. Any action you take against them will be twisted and used against you.
If you’re not petty, that’s not a battle you will win. They will constantly be working out how to get back at you, twist the narrative to their own ends, and make you look bad as a result of the behavior.
The best thing you can do is walk away from it.
7. Use humor.
Humor can be a good way to diffuse petty behavior or tense situations. It’s difficult to spin negativity when everyone is joking around and laughing.
However, you need to be careful with this.
Do not use mean-spirited or insulting humor. Don’t make the petty person the butt of your jokes. That’s passive-aggressive, which they will use against you later. For example, “See how mean X is to me?”
8. Focus on positive relationships.
Negative behavior often commands more attention than positive. Still, you want to shift your focus to the positive relationships in your life.
By focusing on positive things, you can help defuse the effects of a petty person’s behavior. It’s a common way to help cope with and overcome negative behavior.
9. Get support.
If dealing with a petty person is particularly challenging, getting support from friends, family, or a therapist may be helpful.
A supportive network can help you stay positive and avoid getting bogged down by their negativity.
Do not use a network of friends or family to get back at this person. Other people will not view that well and will assume you’re being petty or just trying to make the situation worse.
Instead, lean on them as you would normally lean on a support network to get you through. Chances are pretty good that other people will clue into the other person’s petty behavior sooner or later.
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