4 Easy Ways to Deal with Provocative Comments

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From my own experience, after years and years of working in various organizations, I can say that there is a kind of “colleague” of work who is the expert in causing disturbance in the environment and creating discussion. He is the one who moch, ironize, and denigrate the work of others. This guy is the corporate provocateur and usually is an envious person, but he can also be the unreasonable competitive, or the aggressive compulsive. Dealing with such people requires, first and foremost, emotional balance, and some tips on how to respond to such provocations can be very helpful in avoiding discussion.

There is no definitive recipe, and something that works well for one may not work for the other. Of course, what everyone wants is always to have that inspired response, which manages not only to nullify the provocation, but also to impose an exemplary moral order. Unfortunately, it’s best not to rely on it. Not because it is impossible, of course not, but it takes exemplary emotional control to allow clear thinking, even in stressful situations. I remember a co-worker I was hiring for a supervisory role for a very critical area under my responsibility in a particular Organization. Introducing him to the other departments, a guy said to him, “So, you are the guy we are going to fight now!” Undisturbedly, the new employee replied something like this: “I hope not, I’m here to help, play together and help the team win!” It was, no doubt, an inspired response, a little moral lesson upon the other’s provocative comment. But such answers may not occur easily to most people, as well as the witty responses. So, I’ll share some techniques that can help in situations where you come across a corporate provocateur.

I recommend, then, two things: to exercise emotional control, and to use some preprogrammed answers to help. There are some simple tactics that can work well. You should see what works best for you. Practice and exercise will improve your application and effectiveness. The objective will always to avoid discussion, responding in a sober, firm and balanced manner:

  • Silence and indifference: That’s right, the first response I think to use is simply ignore the provocation, not answering anything, saying nothing, not laughing at anything, and not showing any reaction. Remember that, in the silence everything fits. Often, being ignored is the worst of punishments. Let the provocateur not know what your reaction was, I believe that in most corporate provocations, the goal of the provocateur is to watch some kind of unbalanced reaction, or observe the annoyance of others. I recall once, shortly before starting a presentation at a management meeting, I heard a provocation that prompted laughter from some. I did not show any reaction and with energy, I started the presentation, which was enough to nullify the provocation and leave it without effect, because the goal was, obviouslly, to disturb the beginning of the presentation. So, if the situation permits, think of simply ignoring the provocateur and looking totally indifferent, .totally impassive.
  • Ignore and approach another person: The second answer works if you are close to other people. In this case, you ignore the provocation and, going to a third person, initiates another subject. This works well with that provoking guy who joke when you walk into the department, trying to look funny and wanting to hear the laughter from the audience at the cost of ridiculing you. Try not to show any reaction (do not laugh at all), and discuss the subject that brought you to the department with the other person. But what if the subject is with the provocateur himself? No problem, go to him and start the subject anyway. Treat the subject with sobriety, cut off his provocation, show that you are professional, tell him: “Let’s work?”
  • Use the disconnected response: Another way to respond to provocations and avoiding a discussion is to respond in a disconnected way, by saying something absolutely out of the subject of provocation. Cite any statistics, news, or quote. The time it will take to the other wonder the reason of your response should be enough to nullify the provocation. Maybe you feel like a crazy doing that, but it’s for a good cause. And obviously, do not explain anything, let him think, and even if he asks about meaning, tell him to think better, calmly. The goal is for him to think twice before provoking you next time, because he may hear things he will not understand, and that’s something that provocative people do not like.
  • Ask a question: What is the best way to respond to a provocation? Whoever asks the questions dominates the situation. Note that on a talk show, the questioner is the presenter (who usually does not like to be asked); In a police station, the delegate asks the questions; In an audience, it is the judge; at home is the mother who questions the son when he makes something wrong. In a circle of friends, the one who dominates the conversation, in fact, is not the one who speaks the most, but the one who asks the questions. Therefore, invert the presumptive advantage of the provocateur by asking him a question. Better if he owes some work or some response. Even if he answers you by laughing, you must remain indifferent. Show yourself superior. The first time I remembered this tactic was when I was newly hired in a particular organization. During my boss’s vacation, he has delegated several of his responsibilities to me. Shortly after my boss went on vacation, another manager came to me asking one question after another, all of which related to the responsibilities delegated to me. Of course, he had the right to ask, but not in the way he did, because there was at that moment a clear aim of embarrassing me, a silly provocation. At one point, I asked him, “Are you testing me?” He replied that no, and said that just wanted to get updated, but, in fact, he is gone soon after.

Experiment one of these responses next time you have the opportunity. Anyway, the goal is that you deal with the various situations of conflicts, always having a balanced way of dealing with them, avoiding discussions, keeping the situation under control, and finding good solutions.

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