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How to Be Nice to a Mean Person

Four Parts:Composing YourselfTreating Them with KindnessChanging Your PerspectiveDoing It for Yourself

Let’s be honest, the last thing you probably want to give a mean person is your kindness. When someone makes rude comments to you or acts in hurtful ways, it can be tempting to give it right back. However, there’s truly no satisfaction like the satisfaction of being the bigger person. You have no control over the words and actions of other people, but you do have control over your own. By being nice to people who are mean, you become a person with integrity, compassion, and self-restraint.

Part 1
Composing Yourself

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    Take a few deep, calming breaths. If the person has just said or done something mean to you, it’s important to cool off before you react.[1] In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to spew harsh words and react out of anger. If you’re expected to give an immediate response, choose your words very carefully. Speak slowly and calmly, despite what you may be feeling. You can unpack your emotions later, but don’t make a scene before you have time to fully consider the situation.
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    Look at the situation objectively. This is easier said than done at first, but it’s possible! If a stranger was rude to you, just remember that’s all they are— a stranger. Their words and actions have no bearing on your life. By reacting pleasantly and with kindness, you avoid making the situation a bigger deal than it needs to be. If it was a friend who was mean, don’t let that one unfortunate moment ruin a foundation of friendship. It’s important to separate the person from the behavior, and remember that their rude words or actions are not who they are.[2]
    • By separating the words and behaviors from the person, it also becomes easier to not see something as a personal attack against you.[3]
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    Step away from the situation. If you don’t take the time to step away and consider the different possible ways you can react, you may act in a way that you will later regret.[4] If necessary, give the person some sort of neutral excuse for stepping away. Tell them you have a scheduled phone call, an appointment, or an errand to run. You can even just say you have work to do, and need time to focus. Don't tell them you need time away from them, because that will make them defensive right off the bat. Then, go do something that always makes you happy, whatever that might be. It’s pretty hard to be mean to someone if you’re feeling really happy.
    • Exercise, talk with a good friend, watch something funny on TV, meditate, or do anything else to get your mind off the mean person and cheer yourself up. Get to your “happy place.”
    • Don't return to the tense situation until you only have good intentions. In other words, wait until you are completely calm and ready to be kind.

Part 2
Treating Them with Kindness

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    Speak to that person as if your grandma was listening. This may sound crazy, but it’s actually a great rule of thumb when you’re trying to speak kindly and mind your manners. You probably wouldn’t curse someone out in front of your grandmother, even if you really, really want to. This is great when you absolutely have to be nice to someone but don’t even know how to start.
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    Listen to the person. Whether or not you agree with them, they have got to feel heard. People often lash out at others because they feel like that is the only way they will be heard or taken seriously. Maintain eye contact and nod to convey that you’re taking in their words.[5]
    • Say things like, “I understand what you’re saying.” This does NOT mean that you agree with it, but that you are taking in everything.
    • Do not interrupt. Do not speak over them. Just let them say what they need to say.
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    Ask them specific questions. Tell them that you can see that they’re angry or upset, and simply ask what you can do to alleviate their stress. Just offering this can help the situation immensely.[6]
    • If you cannot do what they ask of you, try to find a compromise. Make effort to end the tense situation by being helpful.
    • By asking them what they need, they also may realize that there isn’t anything you can do personally. This might help them realize that they’re taking their anger out on the wrong person.
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    Do tangible acts of kindness for the mean person. It’s great to keep calm and speak kindly to them, but you can take it one step further to alleviate any tension or friction that may exist in the relationship. The most important thing is to be genuine and gracious, and a random act of kindness or a spontaneous favor can go a long way.[7]
    • If you’re dealing with a grumpy coworker, pick up an extra coffee for them in the morning. Not only will they appreciate the gesture, but the caffeine may improve their mood as well!
    • Deliver sweet treats or flowers to a callous neighbor. It’s a lovely favor that is outside of your comfort zone, and it will show them that you want a friendly relationship.
    • Give them a handwritten note. Let them know what you appreciate about them or simply wish them a great day. Handwritten notes are less common nowadays, and they show the person that you’ve put in time and effort to brighten their day.[8]
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    Be genuine. The easiest way to be genuine is to be transparent with the other person. If you're doing them favor or giving them a gift because you want to improve your relationship, just say that! Clarify that your kindness is wholeheartedly sincere, and eliminate any suspicion of sarcasm or ulterior motives.

Part 3
Changing Your Perspective

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    Reflect on their words. Were they trying to give you advice that was simply worded poorly? Were they insulting you because of their own insecurity? Try as hard as you can to place yourself in their shoes. See if you can figure out the real reason they spoke or acted poorly towards you.
    • Changing the way you frame their words can help. For example, don’t make a sweeping generalization about the person. Instead of thinking, “This person was mean to me because they are a rotten person,” try thinking, “This person was mean to me because they must be struggling with something.”
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    Remember a time you lashed out at someone. Think about your reasons for doing that. Were you having a terrible day and were they at the receiving end of your frustration? Did you feel insecure, jealous, or excluded? It’s easy to judge others without judging your own actions, but try to remember that everyone has bad days and acts poorly.
    • Always remind yourself that, “hurt people hurt people.” Being mean is not fun or enjoyable, and genuinely happy people aren’t mean. They may have said or acted cruelly towards you, but odds are it was just a symptom of an internal issue they are having.
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    Break the cycle. Mean people act mean to others, who are then mean in return. If you offer them kindness that they don’t often get, you could break this chain for them. You could make all the difference in how they end up treating people later.
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    Find something you have in common with them. Anything. Maybe you went to the same school, have mutual friends, or live in the same part of town. Try to find a common thread that can remind you they are a human not much different from you. They acted badly, but they are still deserving of your compassion.

Part 4
Doing It for Yourself

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    Remember how you want to look. Sometimes, no matter how mature and kind you are, you come across a completely vile person and you cannot find a reason they deserve your kindness. This is when you just need to do it for your own selfish reasons. Do you want to look like a huge brat? Do you want people to see you as a rude, volatile person? Even if you have every reason in the world to give them a piece of your mind, there will always be two sides to the story. In their version of events, you will always be the villain. Just bite your tongue, show them kindness, and know that you look like the better person.
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    Do it for your health. Being a crabby, rude person takes a toll on your health. Don’t let the mean person have that power! Anger can increase your risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues.[9] On the other hand, states of happiness have been correlated with lower stress hormones and better immune functioning. [10] Kindness also simply makes us happier. Being nice to another person can cause an increase in dopamine in the brain, giving us what some people call a "Helper's high."[11]
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    Preserve the bridges. Life is unpredictable and you have no idea who you may run into again. The fewer people you butt heads with in the course of your life, the more potential connections you’ll have later.[12] Everyone you meet can potentially offer you something, so at the very least, you should stay cordial for selfish reasons!
    • Can you imagine sitting down to get your hair cut and your hairdresser was a person you just cursed out on the subway? What if someone you fought with in college is interviewing you for your dream job in ten years? Don’t risk it!


  • It’s important to pick your battles. Even if someone is being mean to you and you know it’s unjust and wrong, sometimes you need to just brush it off and move along. You don’t need to go to war with every person who treats you badly, because you’ll wear yourself out over the course of your life.
  • Being right is not always the most important thing. Sometimes you should just admit defeat and let the person believe they're right, and you will come out on top by keeping your composure.
  • Walking away can sometimes be the kindest thing you can do for a mean person. If you stand up for yourself by leaving, you can help them realize the error of their ways.


  • There's a difference between being kind and being a doormat. If someone is constantly mean to you, don’t put up with it. It’s not healthy to be in a relationship where you are consistently being hurt and degraded. Don’t be afraid to cut people off.

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Categories: Manners