When they say respect begets respect, does that mean rudeness invites rudeness, too?
While it’s certainly tempting to give in to the urge to be as disrespectful as the other person, doing so only aggravates an already uncomfortable interaction.
So how do you turn the tables gracefully, yet still make it clear that they’ve crossed a line?
You can start by using any of these 23 clever phrases that put a rude person back in their place:
1) “I’ll give that the consideration it deserves”
Let’s start strong with this phrase.
It’s an excellent reply to someone who loves dishing out advice or opinions, even if you didn’t ask them for it.
Use this the next time someone self-appoints themself as your life coach.
It’s a great way to get the last word and a more polite version of, ‘I hear you, but whether I care is my business’.
2) “Thanks for letting me know”
But wait, there’s more:
When you didn’t ask but they tell you anyway, thank them for letting you know.
It’s a snappy phrase that lets them know you’ve heard their input, but you’re not interested in engaging or discussing it further.
3) “Why do you ask?”
If unsolicited commentaries weren’t enough, there’s also the overly invasive or inappropriate questions.
So, how do you tell someone to mind their own business without matching their disrespectful behavior?
Answer their question with another one.
When you ask them why they’re asking, you put them in an uncomfortable situation where they would have to justify their intrusiveness.
4) “Maybe you should think about why that bothers you.”
And then it gets worse…
Some nosy people don’t just ask prying questions. Instead, they resort to a new level of crass by criticizing others’ choices and actions.
You’ve probably already met some of them:
- Parents who criticize other parents for adding sweets to their kids’ lunchboxes.
- Family friends who love to give yourself (and your parents) a hard time because you left your corporate career for your current job.
Your best rebuttal to criticisms like these is to ask why it bothers them so much.
This (hopefully) encourages them to introspect.
Because the reality is, they’re more likely just projecting their personal issues on you.
5) “I have my own priorities”
But what if self-reflection doesn’t work and they can’t keep off your case?
The classic example:
Relatives who can’t stop with their ‘Why aren’t you married yet?’ or ‘When are you going to have kids?’ questions.
Respond with this phrase to make it clear that you have your own set of values and timelines, irrespective of what they think.
6) “Interesting assumption”
There are people who meddle, and then there are people who love to assume.
They’re the type who seem to think they know the whole story, even when they have absolutely no clue.
They’re the people who would say things like:
- ‘One of them is probably infertile, so they can’t have kids’ or
- ‘They’re probably spending beyond their means, so they can’t afford to buy a house.’
Sometimes, a slap on the face is needed to put these people in their place. But let’s go the non-violent path with this short phrase.
It’s a diplomatic way of calling out their assumption without directly attacking the person making it.
7) “Is that so?”
This one is another alternative to #6.
It’s a concise question, but it cleverly forces the accuser to prove their claim or to really think about what they just said.
8) “I see you are having a bad day, but…”
This is best used when people start the interaction unpleasantly, without provocation. Saying this shows your empathy while subtly pointing out the receiver’s nastiness.
Let’s look at a specific example using a scenario I’m sure we can all relate to:
Handling either an unpleasant customer or dealing with an impolite customer service representative.
If you were the customer, respond to the staff with this:
“I see you’re having a bad day, but professionalism should still apply.”
On the flip side, if you were speaking to a rude client, say this:
“I see you’re having a bad day, but taking it out on staff isn’t fair to anyone.”
9) “How would you handle it?”
Let’s say you used the phrase we suggested in #8. But then your coworker starts berating you for how you talked to the rude customer.
Your best response in this scenario is to ask how they would handle it.
It’s a win-win, really:
Because if they have a better suggestion, you learn something new for next time.
But if they can’t offer one (which is more likely to be the case), they walk off feeling awkward for being overly critical.
10) “I have nothing to prove”
Speaking of work, have you ever had someone question your skills or even your position in the workplace?
You know, disrespectful comments like:
- ‘Must be nice to be the boss’s pet.’ or
- ‘I still don’t understand how you got this job.’ or
- ‘Are you sure you’re doing that right?’
I can’t blame you if you choose to retaliate after hearing these. But saying “I have nothing to prove” is a short yet heavy phrase that is enough to put that coworker in their place.
It’s a non-confrontational statement that’s direct and doesn’t require explanation.
Best of all:
It shows you’re self-assured without the need for their validation.
11) “That’s one way to see it”
Differences in opinions are expected.
But if someone is adamant about imposing theirs on you, and they’re being extremely rude about it, give this phrase a shot.
It implies that while their opinion exists, there are other, potentially more valid ways of looking at a situation.
12) “I see where you’re coming from, but I see it differently.”
This one is another alternative to the one before.
It’s a statement that allows for differing opinions without demeaning the other person’s perspective.
13) “I’ll consider that”
Opinionated people sometimes don’t stop until they prove that they’re in the right – even if that means they become rude about it.
If you’re ever stuck in a similar situation, use this phrase for a graceful exit without conceding defeat.
14) “Let’s agree to disagree”
In the frustrating event that they won’t let you leave and they insist on carrying on with the discussion, try wrapping things up with this classic phrase.
It’s a genius way of establishing it’s time to move on because while both your opinions exist, discussing them further is unproductive.
15) “I’ve heard enough for now.”
This is another way of telling someone to ‘leave it at that.’
This phrase signals your boundaries and is a subtle way of saying, ‘I’m done engaging in a pointless argument.’
16) “We’ll have to continue this another time.”
Let’s face it:
Exploring contrasting views can sometimes be fruitful and lead to innovative ideas.
But if there comes a point where the discussion becomes heated and rudeness ensues, you have to hit pause on the conversation. And this phrase is an excellent way of doing that.
It gives the conversation an open ending, leaving the door open for future, hopefully, more positive dialogue.
17) “Did you mean for that to be rude?”
Have you ever been left speechless and caught off guard by a backhanded compliment?
I feel you.
So save this phrase and serve it to whoever gives you a snide remark in the future.
It will put the spotlight on their rudeness and will force them to clarify or backpedal on what they said.
18) “Would you like to rephrase that?”
This phrase is best used as a response to disrespectful language.
It allows them to correct themselves while giving you the chance to subtly call them out.
19) “Could you clarify what you mean?”
This question is an excellent alternative to #19 but is also great for clarifying a vague yet potentially offensive statement.
Because let’s be objective:
Sometimes, our feelings may get hurt, even when that wasn’t the speaker’s intention.
Asking this question gives you that clarity while making the other person rethink or rephrase their original comment.
20) “I value constructive feedback, not criticism”
Here’s the thing:
While subtle is good, you just have to be blunt about things.
Like when people give harsh criticisms instead of helpful feedback.
Use this phrase to let them know you’re open to feedback, but you have boundaries when it comes to the type of input you’re willing to accept.
21) “Let’s focus on the issue, not on each other”
We’ve all been there:
Arguments where the other person attacks us personally rather than sticking to the subject.
If you ever get yourself in the same situation again, use this statement to redirect the conversation back to objectivity and professionalism.
22) “I choose not to engage in this behavior”
What if someone deliberately tries to bait you into an argument?
Choose this specific phrase to let them know that you will not let them push your buttons.
23) “I wish you well”
Now, this phrase may sound condescending, but hear me out:
If you say it sincerely and genuinely, it’s an effective approach of highlighting your maturity while letting the other person know that despite their rudeness, you’re still sending positive vibes their way.
Your reactions define you
Remember these two things:
- You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.
- Your reactions teach others how to treat you.
While hitting back with the same level of rudeness can feel like the easiest and best response, responding with clever statements can lift you higher.
They maintain your dignity and control and turn a potentially harmful interaction into a display of your resilience and wit.