How to tell someone off
Sometimes, when people do things that hurt you, it’s a good idea to tell them off and assert forcefully that what they did was not ok. The point of this is not to hurt them or to get emotional satisfaction from expressing anger; the point is about making them stop. Here are some things I think I know about what sometimes works:
- Be specific. Tell them exactly what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and what they ought to have done.
- Tell them what would solve the problem.
- Don’t use obscene or personally insulting remarks. For instance, it’s usually inadvisable to say things like “Are you fucking kidding me?” or “Doing that is effectively giving me the finger”. It’s better to say things like “When you do that, it makes it impossible for me and others to participate. That’s not ok”.
- Don’t talk about your feelings and don’t allow the person you’re telling off to turn it into a discussion about your feelings. Making it about feelings causes a power shift, and it gives the person an opening to make it a personal or therapeutic encounter. This is not the time to talk about feelings or use I-statements; it’s the time to talk about the specific thing that person is doing and why it’s a problem.
- If you’re able to make eye contact, it’s useful to do so in this situation. Not making eye contact in this situation is likely to be perceived as you being ashamed, intimidated, or submissive. Making eye contact is likely to be perceived as you being willing to stand your ground.
- This is not about consensual interaction. You don’t need someone’s permission to say no, or to tell them that they are hurting you. (It can be hard to learn to understand the differences between these situations, but it’s really important to be aware that they both exist)