Decisions, Decisions


While there are kind people out there for whom we must be grateful, there are still those who are negative, if not toxic. The media landscape is littered with advice on dealing with offensive behavior. This offers suggestions on how to respond in a proactive rather than reactive way. The concepts of silence and saying, “thank you,” play key roles in this.


Reactivity comes from emotions, the gut. Proactivity comes from thought and purpose.


My training as a family therapist was all about how family members treat and react to each other. The goal was “individuation,”—standing strong and apart while connecting, being positive and supportive. Family interactions are like most others. Being talked down to by a sibling can feel the same as when a co-worker does it.


The first part of this article is about a “less is more” strategy to deal with targeted, (at you) mean-spirited behaviors. Think of a setting (like work) where you are there too many hours to be in a negative environment. I remember it well, being dissed daily by the same instigators. It was always someone who enjoyed finding fault often and seemed to take joy in making me wrong.


The following offers two seemingly minimal responses. That is, “silence” and saying “thank you” to the perpetrator. An effective response will empower you.


Keep in mind that this takes practice. I have learned this as I have grown into my sixth decade. I wish I could go back to myself at any time in the past and tell her there were better ways to deal with the dissing!


Silence. When someone yells at you, one of the best responses is air. No response. Shhhhh…Can you “hear” it? The silence “says” much. After you have uttered the sound of silence, you might be more prepared to answer. Here’s an example. A co-worker says, “You have no idea what you are doing.” Pause…Then, “Please do not talk to me that way and make such a gross accusation.” If the co-worker persists to make this point, go back to silence and let her hear herself talk.


Silence says, “I will not dignify your comments with a response.” Sometimes that dead air is not only effective in fighting back, it says “I exist.” It leaves that perpetrator out there to hang.


So, silence is armor for you in the face of flat out ignorance.


On the other hand, “Thank You” says, “I hear you—but no thanks!” It doesn’t exactly welcome the criticism but it can stop it in its tracks. You can pretend you are thankful that they have proven they are mean and not worthy of a continued interaction.


There is some poetic justice at work when the response is subtle and ironic.


Then there are those who are not only negative, but cheap with saying “thank you.” You do or say something nice, and the response is duh, nothing. That person seems in capable and/or self-absorbed. If you must deal with this, learn to expect far less. Although this is about what was not said but surely should be.


Now I want to go back to the kind people. There is conversely a more positive and proactive use for “silence” and “thank you.” Listening involves silence. It allows for not only the ability to know a person—it is gift from you and to you. Allowing pensive pause before you respond permits a kind retort. There is an old song called “Silence is Golden,” the words are, “silence is golden, but my eyes can see.” We have our ears to hear but eye contact is another lovely way to show you are present for someone.


Then there are those two little words, “Thank you.” Why not make it your goal to say, “thank you” all day? “Thank you” to the gas station attendant, to the waiter, to children, mates, to whom you worship. It feels so good to acknowledge the good.


Appreciate how good it feels to be thanked. The practice of thoughtful silence and a warm “thank you” is a healthy way to live. Mind you, it does take practice, as with everything, it’s difficult.


There are many lessons we continue to learn as we participate in human interaction. Kabballah, a Jewish mystical philosophy, suggests there is a spiritual transformation from reactivity to pro-activity. Yet another good reason to discipline our responses! Lastly, we can always be more silent to listen better and not miss the opportunity to say, “thank you.” Speaking of which, thank you for reading!



Beth grew up in Camden, New Jersey and majored in Education and History at Rutgers University and later obtained a Masters in Family Therapy at Drexel University. She’s married to her husband of 41 years with two young adult children—a daughter and son—who both work in NYC. She loves movies, Netflix, books, history, linguistics and exploring the human condition. From her extensive background, she’s accumulated many stories and lessons and looks forward to shaping the conversation.