How to Deal With Mean People

by Andrea Blundell

Stuck working with a critical colleague? Or being picked on by other students? How can you deal with mean people?

How to deal with mean people 

*Note that if someone is physically hurting you in any way, it’s not just mean, it’s assault.  Get help. Talk to a manager,  school guidance counsellor, or someone you trust. 

1. Reframe the power game. 

Yes, we can be stuck in a situation where we have to deal with a mean boss or fellow student daily. And no, we cannot control how that other person behaves. 

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But when we are dealing with a mean person, we tend to be in victim perspective. We feel totally powerless, and it’s exhausting. 

It’s also untrue. You actually have personal power. Remembering that brings back energy and options. You can choose how you react, for starters. And given that most bullies thrive off negative reactions, this can be more powerful than you think. 

2. If there are options, take them. 

Sometimes we get so caught up in being a victim we don’t take obvious options.

For example, if you are in a group of friends that pick on you, and you are telling yourself that you ‘have to’ be in that group or you’ll be an outcast, is that really true? If it’s a low paid job you hate with a bullying boss, are you really ‘stuck’ in it? Or can you start applying elsewhere?

Sometimes being strong is not sticking something out, it’s making a brave decision to practise self care.

3. Be a boundaries bad ass. 

Sometimes all it takes to end subtle bullying is one conversation with clearly expressed boundaries. Yet  if we grew up in a family where we weren’t allowed to express our needs or emotions, we can find this thought more terrifying than continuing to be someone else’s victim. 

But put it this way – would you rather spend months, or even years, wasting all your energy worried about the ‘mean person’?

Or would you rather face your fears about being assertive, and use all that energy to instead do things like get better grades, or further you career?

Read our articles onSetting Boundaries” and “Saying No“, as well as “How to Communicate Under Stress“.

Then ask a person you trust to help you. Practise what you’ll say until you feel confident then go for it. 

4. Try the broken record technique.

Set your boundaries clearly with the mean person, but they are not respecting them? 

Many mean people are they way they are because they were not given the love and attention they deserved as a child and learned to get it by ‘acting out’. They are still stuck acting like a child.

So much as you’d say no to a naughty child by repeating ‘no’ again and again, repeat your boundary again and again in slightly different ways.

The broken record technique also gives the other person no new information to be mean over. 

Keep your voice calm and firm. “I don’t like you commenting on my appearance.” “No, we are not discussing my looks, thanks.” “I am not having a conversation with you about this.” Then change the subject or walk away. 

5.  Under-react. 

The more you react, the more  a mean person gets what they want from you. The less you react, the more bored they are, the more likely to move on.  

A common method here is to give the mean person the opposite of what they want. The meaner they are, the nicer and calmer you act.

Sounds easy on paper… but not always so achievable in reality. What if the second they are mean something in you flares up and you shake, snap back, or, worse, tear up? Which leads to the next point. 

6. Go energy neutral. 

Often we react because we show up already tense and ready for a negative interaction. So it can help to practice techniques so that you show up in a neutral mood. This can look like:

Free flow journaling

Take some paper and write out every horrible thing you think about the mean person. Don’t hold anything back. Then rip up the paper (knowing it gets destroyed means your unconscious mind can really unload.) Nobody at work needs to know you aren’t furiously working on a presentation…..

Mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is popular as it’s powerful. A few minutes of deep mindful breathing can make us far less likely to react when pushed (learn how in our free “Guide to Mindfulness‘.)

Moving it out physically.

Using a lunch break to go for a brisk walk or quick workout – exercise is shown to leave our mood calmer. If you can’t do anything at lunch, working physical activity into the rest of your week can also help. 

7. Use body language.

Sometimes we think we are coming across as assertive and strong, but our body language is giving us away.

Uncross your arms, straighten your shoulders, raise your chin slightly, pull in your stomach. Breathe as deeply as possible – if we hold our breath from anxiety it makes our body language tense. 

You might want to use a visualisation here of being a mountain, or a giant. Imagine yourself expanding until you are much bigger and more power than the person who is bothering you.

8. Be really present.

Mean people are used to others trying to get away from them and avoiding them, or brushing them off. Sometimes doing the opposite and being fully present to the mean person can startle them. 

Use the tips for strong and calm body language above and stare the person in the eye. This alone can make them back down. 

We can also show we are present by asking the person if they are okay, or what is bothering them. If they are actually just seeking attention, they might actually talk and drop the mean act. You might even learn more about them, and discover they are not as mean as you thought. They might just be stressed or scared. 

9. Clean up your past.

Have a colleague or teacher you see as a ‘big bully’, but others seem to have less of an issue?

Sometimes it’s our own perspective at play. They unconsciously remind us of someone else, and we are projecting our feelings about that other person from the past onto this person in the present. For example, is your boss or teacher at all like your mean stepfather you are still scared of?

Self help is a good start if our past is affecting our present. Ideally, it’s good to see a counsellor . Navigating the past can bring up a lot, and they will create a safe space and give you good ideas for coping. 

10. Drop the drama. 

Often we are more drained by the drama around the situation than the actual situation. We talk non stop about the person upsetting us, dreaming up worse case scenarios.

The more you can drop the drama, the more energy you will have to actually deal with the situation.

If you are at the point you are addicted to negative and distorted thinking about the situation, you might need to seek support. CBT therapy is an excellent way to gain control of your thoughts so you can start making clearer choices again.

11. Take responsibility for your choices.

There are mean people we didn’t choose to be around (colleagues, bosses, fellow students, teachers) and there are mean people that, let’s face it, we are actually responsible for allowing into our life.

If it’s actually a ‘friend’ or partner who is being mean to you, the question is not how to deal with mean people, but how to raise your self worth and recognise the deeply negative limiting beliefs that keep you in degrading situations. 

Feel controlled by a mean person, and can’t find a way forward? It’s time to seek support. We connect you with top talk therapists in central London. Or find registered UK-wide counsellors and psychotherapists on our booking site, as well as online therapists who can help you no matter where you live. 


Still have a question about how to deal with a mean person? Or want to share you experience with other readers? Use the comment box below. Comments are monitored to protect readers. 

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