Responding to Insulting Messages

The Not-So-Classy Cut-Off

You’ve read it before, it’s hard to convey “tone” in an email or private message (PM). You could mean something in jest, and have it perceived as ultimately serious.

For example, let’s say you receive an email that says:

“Please don’t contact me. Thank you.”

We know that the sender doesn’t want your emails … and that’s about it. We can’t get the tone of the letter from the words chosen.

What message lay between the lines? What did the author intend?

Please don’t contact me … I hate your guts and never want to hear from you again.

Please don’t contact me … letters from you bring back painful memories.

Please don’t contact me … until you apologize.

Please don’t contact me … I have arthritis in my hands and find it difficult to respond.

Please don’t contact me … because each time you do, you say something hateful.

Please don’t contact me … it upsets my spouse.

Please don’t contact me … I’m going through a period of mourning; it has nothing to do with you..

It could also be an automatic reply …

Please don’t contact me … this is an autoresponder message, and I never saw what you originally wrote.

angry-emailsEven with more details, it’s still hard to read tone. The few words written could show implied sarcasm, an unstated wish that things weren’t so tense, or even an uncompleted thought.

So, what do you do when you receive an unpleasant letter?

First, realize that it might not be as unpleasant as you perceive. Maybe you misread the tone, as discussed above.

Still, your assessment of the phrases thrown at you could be correct. A message might appear in your Facebook PM that conveys the opinion that you’re arrogant or a jerk. If the sender is not joking and insulting you in a “loving” way, then you have just been insulted. Now, what?

You have some choices …

delete-buttonYou could choose the no-response option. Let it go. Sometimes, the action of no action really is the best. Let the person flinging the insults stew in their own negativity.

Go on with your life, and ignore the looney fringe … AND HOPE THEY GO AWAY.

Sometimes, this doesn’t work.

They continue spewing their filth … either at you, or if that doesn’t get a more engaged response, they could start flinging their opinion of you to others. (Hmm … the terms “libel” and “slander” come to mind.)

How To Respond to the Insult

Let’s run through five quick responses to receiving an insulting communication. Each of these could be handled with poise and tact, but they could also come across as supremely classless or classy-less.

These responses hail from martial arts, specifically, from Bruce Lee. The most famous martial artist of the 20th century divided all forms of attack, and in our case “response” into five categories:

1. Single Direct Response – Hey, you have been insulted anyway. So, why not lash back? Let’s say you have been accused of being arrogant; well then, any response by you that defends yourself can be labeled as further proof of your arrogance … whether true or not. (Remember our discussion of email tone.)

So, in the words of Pat Benatar, “Hit ‘em with your best shot; fire way!”

Rather than defend yourself, do a little accusing of your own … based on “facts,” of course ;-)

2. Attack By Combination – Fire off your response letter AND do something else … or several “somethings else.” Maybe contact a relative, too. Or post on their wall in addition to a PM. Maybe send them a snail-mail card in addition to your email.

Just make sure to communicate in several different ways, each one perfectly timed.

3. Attack By Trapping – Set them up. Stop them with their own logic. Use their own words against them. Let them sink themselves … you just stop them from moving forward.

“Go ahead and insult me some more. It will prove who the verbally abusive one really is.”


“Remember how you said that our relationship is toxic? Well, I agree.”


“You said that anyone who posts their dirty laundry on a blog is low class. I agree; so, I refer you to the post you made about me, recently.”

4. Progressive Indirect Attack – Start to respond, but don’t make it a real attack. Hint at it … that “tone thing,” again. Then, when your corresponding opponent jumps at your little attempt, you go in for the kill with your best argument.

Really put him in his place.

5. Attack By Drawing – Similar to responding with little barbs and then coming in for the grand slam of retorts, you leave an opening. One of the best ways to do this with PMs and emails is to write something ambiguous, where your toxic sender can misperceive the facts.

Then you trump them … by telling them the truth.

Keep in mind, all of these responses can be handled delicately, where you communicate a non-aggressive tone.

On the other hand, you can pen each in the form of a written weapon, that attacks.

Know your desired outcome, before you engage.

And sometimes, to end a toxic relationship, don’t worry so much about being classy. Let them insult … and then cut them loose.

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