How to deal with mean people
January 11th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

How to deal with mean people

Editor's note: CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme of seeking serenity: the quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times.

Not that long ago I was crossing the street with my daughter when a speeding car almost plowed us down.

“Hey! This is a crosswalk!” I yelled through the passing car’s open window.

“I don’t care!” The driver shot back.

Mean people, like vermin, have been around forever. But for some reason - maybe it’s the economic trials of these past few years - there seem to be more of them than there used to be. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: A 2010 National Civility Survey found that two out of three Americans believe civility is a major issue, and three in four believe the negative tenor in our country has grown worse over the past few years.

“When we talk about civility and good manners, we are not talking about which forks to use for salad - that’s etiquette,” says Dr. Pier Forni, director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins and author of "The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude."

“Civility is about how we treat one another in everyday life and is closely related to ethics. The principle of respect for the person holds that we ought to treat others as an end in themselves, rather than as a means for the satisfaction of our own immediate needs and desires.”

I find myself nodding in agreement with Dr. Forni, but then I try to imagine repeating his words to the dude who almost ran us down in the crosswalk. I’m thinking that guy may not be convinced with an argument about the interplay between ethics and civility.

So why should we be nice if we don’t have to be?

The health benefits, for one. According to Forni, “Science tells us that when we engage in acts of civility and kindness, both the person on the giving end and the one on the receiving end benefit; it’s known as ‘helper’s high.’ Cascades of hormones and neurotransmitters activate when we are giving a token of our civility.”

Indeed, a slew of studies confirm that kinder people tend to live longer and lead healthier lives; volunteers have fewer aches and pains; and compassionate people are more likely to be healthier and successful.

Widespread incivility, on the other hand, can wreak havoc. Mean people, writes Stanford professor Robert Sutton, have “devastating effects, partly because nasty interactions have a far bigger impact on our moods than positive interactions - five times the punch.”

Says Sutton: “You have to overwhelm the negative with so much positive, it’s ridiculous!”

Moreover, due to a process called emotional contagion, the ripple effects of demeaning acts adversely affect coworkers, family members and friends who watch - or even just hear about - ugly incidents.

Sutton has written widely about the economic and social benefits of rooting out jerks from the workplace (except Dr. Sutton doesn’t call them jerks). His bestselling book is called "The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t."

Sutton distinguishes between occasional rudeness - of which everyone is more or less guilty - and certified jerks. His “Dirty Dozen” of common everyday actions that out a certified nasty person include: personal insults, invading one’s personal territory, uninvited physical contact, threats and intimidation (both verbal and nonverbal), sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems, withering email flames, status slaps intended to humiliate their victims, public shaming or status degradation rituals, rude interruptions, two-faced attacks, dirty looks, and treating people as if they are invisible.

Certified jerks display persistent patterns of these bad behaviors and have a long trail of victims. (Sutton has also developed a self-test called the ARSE, but I took it and I’m pretty sure it can be gamed.)

But why are people mean? Forni suggests a handful of root causes that may cover the entire spectrum of uncivilized behavior: lack of restraint; stress, illness or depression; anonymity; insecurity; lack of time; or a sense of entitlement.

“All of these factors can work together,” says Forni. “In traffic, for example, anonymity and stress work together. The first driver cuts off the second driver. Perhaps both are late and therefore anxious. They don’t think they know one another. And so they engage in some finger puppetry. But say one of the drivers suddenly recognizes the other as the pastor of his church. You will have an immediate effort to minimize what happened.”

According to Forni, anonymity also plays into uncivil behavior online: “You have this wonderful technological marvel that can improve our lives and yet it has become a dismal collector of the moral toxins of our society.” (Imagine Forni’s elegant turns of phrase spoken with a fabulous Italian accent.)

Ultimately, civility is about power - and character. “The difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know,” writes Sutton.

Since nasty people are unavoidable in daily life, Sutton offers a few tips how to deal with them - and perhaps rebound more quickly from run-ins:

Stand up or develop indifference.

Sutton says that if you find yourself the victim of bad behavior, do a power analysis: “You can either address the problem directly, or you can exercise the fine art of emotional detachment. Can you take a picture of the jerk’s license plate and report him to the police? Is there a number on the side of his car you can call? If yes, fine. If not, then try to forget the incident as quickly as possible. There are times when things are beyond your control and the best thing for your mental health is not to give a damn. In those circumstances, find ways to engage in short-term denial.”

Reframe and change how you see things.

Attempt to reframe a run-in with a jerk in way that is less upsetting. “This is a kind of mini cognitive therapy,” says Sutton. If you can’t escape a stressor, you can reduce the damage by changing your mind-set about what’s happening.

“Develop a coping mechanism, if you must. Sometimes we are able to find delusions that serve us.”

Sutton offers a reframing example from a recent holiday meal, where a relative did something rude.

"Afterwards I was complaining to my wife and she turned to me and said: ‘I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want the 1% that was bad to ruin the 99% that was good.’ And then she left the room. It was surprisingly effective.”

Sutton cautions, however, that if you’re in a long-term situation that is bad every time, reframing will not make it go away.

Limit your exposure.

Avoid if you need to. For example, if you shop at the same place frequently, go out of your way to avoid the mean clerks. By limiting how often and intensely you face jerks, you create a buffer against their demeaning behavior.

In a work context, Sutton offers additional strategies, like building pockets of safety, support and sanity; and seeking and fighting battles that you have a good chance of winning.

Later, reflecting on Sutton’s strategies - stand your ground, detach, reframe and avoid - I am reminded of the oft-repeated meditation for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

And I add a little prayer of my own: “Please God, next time grant me a baseball bat for the car that almost ran my kid over.”

soundoff (234 Responses)
  1. Pianino Programy

    With all the doggone snow we have had as of late I am stuck indoors, fortunately there is the internet, thanks for giving me something to do.


    February 7, 2021 at 04:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. iskenderun escort

    iskenderun escort bayanlarla tanışmak için bu siteyi ziyaret edebilirsiniz.


    February 7, 2021 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. adana escort

    iskenderun escort bayanlarla tanışmak için bu siteyi ziyaret edebilirsiniz.


    February 7, 2021 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Metale Tematy

    Czas to material, z ktorego zrobione jest zycie. – Benjamin Franklin.


    February 8, 2021 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Fókuszpályázat pályázatírás Debrecen

    Of course, what a great blog and revealing posts, I definitely will bookmark your blog.Best Regards!


    February 9, 2021 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. freame.lee@gmail.com



    – 100% safe for your site
    – real visitors with unique IPs. No bots, proxies, or datacenters
    – visitors from Search Engine (by keyword)
    – visitors from Social Media Sites (referrals)
    – visitors from any country you want (USA/UK/CA/EU…)
    – very low bounce rate
    – very long visit duration
    – multiple pages visited
    – tractable in google analytics
    – custom URL tracking provided
    – boost ranking in SERP, SEO, profit from CPM

    CLAIM YOUR 24 HOURS FREE TEST HERE=> ventfara@mail.com

    Thanks, Lee Freame

    February 9, 2021 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Socjologia Religii

    Please tell me that youre heading to keep this up! Its so good and so important. I cant wait to read much more from you. I just feel like you know so very much and know how to make people listen to what you might have to say. This weblog is just also cool to be missed. Excellent things, genuinely. Please, PLEASE keep it up!


    February 10, 2021 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. rodrigo.wales@gmail.com



    – 100% safe for your site
    – real visitors with unique IPs. No bots, proxies, or datacenters
    – visitors from Search Engine (by keyword)
    – visitors from Social Media Sites (referrals)
    – visitors from any country you want (USA/UK/CA/EU…)
    – very low bounce rate
    – very long visit duration
    – multiple pages visited
    – tractable in google analytics
    – custom URL tracking provided
    – boost ranking in SERP, SEO, profit from CPM

    CLAIM YOUR 24 HOURS FREE TEST HERE=> ventfara@mail.com

    Thanks, Rodrigo Wales

    February 12, 2021 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Skandynawia

    Dobry przyjaciel widzi pierwsza lze, lapie druga i powstrzymuje trzecia.


    February 14, 2021 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Norwegia

    Zycie, uswiadomil sobie, bardzo przypomina piosenke. Na poczatku jest tajemnica, na końcu – potwierdzenie, ale to w srodku kryja sie wszystkie emocje, dla ktorych cala sprawa staje sie warta zachodu. – Nicholas Sparks


    February 15, 2021 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Shared Proxies

    Very excellent visual appeal on this internet site, I'd value it 10 10.


    February 16, 2021 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. malatya escort

    malatya escort bayanlarla tanışmak için bu siteyi ziyaret edebilirsiniz.


    February 16, 2021 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Filozofia

    Celem zycia jest: w swojej malej jednostkowej duszy odbic jak najwiecej kosmosu. – Henryk Elzenberg


    February 17, 2021 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. frolep rotrem

    Hmm it looks like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I'm still new to the whole thing. Do you have any points for novice blog writers? I'd really appreciate it.


    February 18, 2021 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Filozofia

    Some really nice stuff on this website , I enjoy it.


    February 19, 2021 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mega888 android download

    Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren't loading properly.
    I'm not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different web
    browsers and both show the same results.

    my homepage: mega888 android download

    February 20, 2021 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. id test mega888

    Having read this I believed it was really enlightening.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put
    this informative article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time
    both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still

    Also visit my web page: id test mega888

    February 21, 2021 at 02:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. www.USA.XMC.pl

    Przyjemnosc jest poczatkiem i celem zycia szczesliwego. – Epikur


    February 21, 2021 at 05:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. network installation

    Hi my family member! I wish to say that this article is amazing, great written and include approximately all significant infos. I would like to peer extra posts like this.


    February 21, 2021 at 05:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. wiki.dragonsprophets.com

    I will immediately seize your rss feed as I can't to find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or
    newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly permit me understand
    in order that I may subscribe. Thanks.

    Here is my web blog; mega888 (wiki.dragonsprophets.com)

    February 21, 2021 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. https://rockfishlax.com/library/index.php/Mega888_Barberinos_Down-load

    Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the
    internet the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while
    people think about worries that they just don't know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side-effects
    , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more.


    Here is my web-site ... game mega888 (https://rockfishlax.com/library/index.php/Mega888_Barberinos_Down-load)

    February 21, 2021 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. USA Portal

    This post was very nicely written :), and it also contains a lot of useful extra facts. I enjoyed your professional way of writing this post. Thanks, you have made it very easy for me to understand Interesing Links in Free Laptops Thanks!.


    February 22, 2021 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. id akaun test mega888

    Very great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing for your feed and I'm hoping you write once
    more very soon!

    Feel free to visit my webpage; id akaun test mega888

    February 22, 2021 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. game online mega888

    Hi friends, how is all, and what you desire to say about
    this post, in my view its genuinely amazing in favor of me.

    my blog post :: game online mega888

    February 22, 2021 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. mega888 website

    It's an awesome article designed for all the internet visitors; they will obtain benefit from it I am

    Feel free to visit my page: mega888 website

    February 22, 2021 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. download mega888

    That is a really good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Brief but very accurate info… Appreciate your sharing this one.
    A must read post!

    Here is my web site ... download mega888

    February 24, 2021 at 03:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. game mega88

    I think the admin of this web site is truly working hard in support
    of his web page, for the reason that here every information is quality based stuff.

    Also visit my homepage; game mega88

    February 24, 2021 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. slot mega888

    It's in point of fact a nice and helpful piece of information. I'm satisfied that you just shared this useful info with us.
    Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    Feel free to surf to my homepage: slot mega888

    February 25, 2021 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Cukrzyca

    Zycie jest wspaniale, nalezy tylko spogladac na nie przez wlasciwe okulary. – Aleksander Dumas


    February 28, 2021 at 00:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. https://1222bets.com/viewtopic.php?id=239308

    What a material of un-ambiguity and preserveness of
    valuable familiarity on the topic of unexpected

    Feel free to surf to my web-site :: game mega888 (https://1222bets.com/viewtopic.php?id=239308)

    February 28, 2021 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. mega888 online

    When some one searches for his essential thing, thus he/she wants to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained
    over here.

    My site mega888 online

    February 28, 2021 at 04:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Cukrzyca News

    Many thanks for taking turns this kind of superb subject material on your site. I noticed it on the internet. I am going to check back again when you post much more aricles.


    March 1, 2021 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Mega888 Android

    Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up fast! What
    web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

    my web site – Mega888 Android

    March 4, 2021 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Vada Galassi


    March 4, 2021 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. i mega888

    Greetings! Very useful advice within this article!
    It's the little changes that produce the most significant changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

    my blog – i mega888

    March 4, 2021 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. mega888 malaysia

    Thanks in favor of sharing such a fastidious idea, article is pleasant, thats why i have read
    it completely

    Also visit my blog :: mega888 malaysia

    March 5, 2021 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. kiss918 ios download

    I'm gone to tell my little brother, that he should also pay
    a quick visit this blog on regular basis to obtain updated from most recent reports.

    My site :: kiss918 ios download

    March 5, 2021 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. www.i-gen.com.ar

    I seriously love your site.. Excellent colors
    & theme. Did you develop this web site yourself?
    Please reply back as I'm attempting to create my own site and
    would love to know where you got this from or just what the theme is
    named. Thank you!

    my page xe88; http://www.i-gen.com.ar,

    March 5, 2021 at 18:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Russell Heimsoth

    Thank you for some other informative site. The place else could I get that type of information written in such an ideal method? I've a challenge that I am simply now operating on, and I've been on the glance out for such information.


    March 6, 2021 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. 918kaya apk

    My spouse and I stumbled over here coming from a different page and thought I might
    check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to looking over your web page for a second time.

    Also visit my homepage: 918kaya apk

    March 7, 2021 at 02:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. zortilo nrel

    I’ve read a few good stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to make such a magnificent informative site.


    March 8, 2021 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. gameaco.com

    Saya tidak bisa menolak berkomentar. Baik ditulis!

    Check out my page; Slot deposit via pulsa tanpa potongan (gameaco.com)

    March 8, 2021 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. url











    March 21, 2021 at 08:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Leasing Portal

    Najcenniejszych rzeczy w zyciu nie nabywa sie za pieniadze.


    March 24, 2021 at 05:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Isabel Sauls

    Appreciate it for helping out, fantastic info. "The surest way to be deceived is to think oneself cleverer than the others." by La Rochefoucauld.


    March 24, 2021 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Candy Ohr

    hello there and thank you for your information – I’ve certainly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise several technical issues using this website, since I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I'm complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I’m adding this RSS to my email and could look out for much more of your respective exciting content. Ensure that you update this again very soon..


    March 24, 2021 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Milton Kritter

    Thank you for another informative blog. Where else could I get that kind of information written in such an ideal approach? I've a project that I am just now working on, and I have been on the glance out for such info.


    March 24, 2021 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. customingenuity.org

    I pay a visit day-to-day a few websites and sites to read articles, except this
    blog provides quality based content.

    My website :: 918kaya apk – customingenuity.org –

    March 28, 2021 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. download game live22

    Hey there, You've done a great job. I'll certainly digg it and personally
    suggest to my friends. I am sure they'll be benefited from this website.

    Also visit my web-site :: download game live22

    March 28, 2021 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Sterling

    I do believe all of the ideas you've offered to your post.
    They are really convincing and will certainly work. Still,
    the posts are very short for novices. Could you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time?

    Thank you for the post.

    my blog post ... download mega888 [Sterling]

    March 29, 2021 at 02:50 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.