From those snarky back-handed ‘compliments’ to criticism that doesn’t feel constructive, the offensive out-of-the-blue remark, or the subtle digs that wear down your self-confidence, it can be hard to know what to do when someone insults you. To help in those sticky situations, here are seven options for how to respond…

Don’t engage.

That’s right, you don’t have to say a thing. Whether they’re trying to get a rise out of you, or attention for themselves by putting others down, if you don’t reply they don’t get what they want. It also means either the conversation can move on, or the silence puts the awkwardness on them.

‘Could you repeat that?’

It’s a simple technique, but pretending that you didn’t catch what they said and asking them to repeat it may well make them think twice about their words. If they were trying to be ‘funny’, it’s certainly not going to be the same the second time around…

Agree with them.

This completely depends on what the person says, but if it’s a critique, keeping things light-hearted and agreeing to an extent (whether you actually do or not) will make it seem like their words are bouncing off you – and not having their desired effect. For example, if you’ve made food for people, and ‘that friend’ makes remarks about what a terrible cook you are, you could laugh and say: “Yeah, I’m not the best cook, but I’m trying.”

Catch them off-guard with a compliment.

An option, following on from the previous point, is if you agree with them, you could flip the script by redirecting things to them in a positive way, such as: ‘I know you’re a good cook though, do you have any tips for me?’ It’s pretty hard to keep being mean to someone, or put them down, when they respond with kindness.

Hold on to humour.

This can be trickier, as, with all comedy, timing is everything. But if you feel confident that you can keep things light and jokey, you could dissipate any tension with a witty remark.

Ask ‘Are you done?’

This is a more direct response, probably for those times when someone seems to be relentlessly picking on you in the name of a ‘joke’ or ‘banter’. Keeping calm and asking this question shows that you’re above the pettiness, and puts the spotlight back on them. If they ask what you mean, you could be clear by calling it out: “Are you done with putting me down?”

‘Are you OK?’

It might not be your first thought, but asking this is another way to put the spotlight back on to them. If this is out of character, it could be said with the intention of acknowledging that, and recognising they might be projecting or deflecting from other feelings. Or, if it’s a consistent pattern of behaviour, you could continue by directly addressing it: “Are you OK, because that was incredibly rude/inappropriate?”

Remember, someone else’s opinions are just that – and just because they share them loudly doesn’t mean they’re fact, or true. However you decide to handle things in the moment, just know that you don’t need to take their words to heart.