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Defending against "you're a genius"

Hello guys,

my friend A. used some insults against me. I don't take it personally as he's 27 and he uses words that he underestimates. He used words like (translation from french): "dumbass", "dummy" and things like that.

My answer (on a friendly/joking tone): "Hey show a little respect!" I know he's not aware that they are insults (in french the words above are stronger but I cannot find the right translation). So I was able to defend by exposing the insult. He stopped saying them as he realized how bad it was.

Now he has one I have not yet found a defense, it's: "you're a genius!". He uses it when someone makes a mistake he thinks is stupid. So it implies still: "you're a dumbass" but it's not stated as it is implies by saying the opposite.

As I wrote in the other post, the default defense is: "No, you're the genius!". I have not used it yet as I just thought about it today. However, I'm curious about your opinion about a possible defense. The frame is: "You're stupid".

What do you think?

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

Yeah, this is an example of power scalping ("I can criticize you") and (aggressive) social climbing ("I'm above you"), as he is pushing people down, while indirectly using them as social pegs to say "I'm better than that" (which he probably isn't for the simple fact he felt the need of social climbing).

It's most likely not personal indeed, and the way people talk is somewhat linked to age, as you state, as well as to general approaches to communication (some people just use a more aggressive register, or use more cussing and bad words than others).

COVERT AGGRESSION

While before he was being direct about it, now with the "you're a genius", he went undercover.
It became a specific case of covert aggression since it uses irony to deliver the aggression / one-up.

The use of irony makes it more difficult to address it.

MIRROR THE AGGRESSION

The mirror technique of saying the same back on him is not bad.
As you correctly and acutely stated in the other thread, it's not always the best possible response, but it's a solid one.

In this case, I'd probably go more direct though.

THE QUICK LINE IN THE SAND

Whenever he says that to you, or even to someone else, you can say:

You: Dude, stop playing the smartass

Or:

You: Dude, don't play that game, it's weak

And you stop at that.

If he doesn't reply and nobody says anything about it, you still sent your message loud and clear: you're not OK with that behavior.
Do it a few times, and he will probably stop it (at least with you).
If not, then you can take it further and go assertive or go meta, and the fact that you've drawn a few lines in the sand in the past makes it very congruent, plus allows you to give a few previous examples if needed.

If him or anybody says "doing what", this is where you go (slightly) meta:

You: When someone makes a mistake and you tell them they're genius, it feels like you're attacking and making fun of them (note; you need the "making fun" part, you can't leave the "attacking" part alone, because since this is covert aggression, he can always go undercover with the usual "I was just joking"). Some people (keep it impersonal, it leaves him less room to defend saying "not me, that wasn't my intention) that as a way of feeling superior, but it's actually just annoying (and not what a good friend / supportive friend would do)

With that, you have provided a solid-enough explanation of the behavior that makes sense to everyone. And that means that you can keep reinforcing and holding to your frame no matter what he says.

Whatever he replies, you can always say "that's not friendly", "that feels annoying", "it's not how supportive people behave", as they all make far more sense than anything he'd reply (of course, because they're all true).

THE COVERT AGGRESSION BACK

There is also the option of using the same covert style back on him.
Such as:

Him: You're a genius
You: And of course he had to exploit the situation to play the smartass

Matthew Whitewood and John Freeman have reacted to this post.
Matthew WhitewoodJohn Freeman
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thanks for sharing this and the analysis.
There are lots of gold nuggets of how to handle covert aggression throughout this forum.

You: When someone makes a mistake and you tell them they're genius, it feels like you're attacking and making fun of them (note; you need the "making fun" part, you can't leave the "attacking" part alone, because since this is covert aggression, he can always go undercover with the usual "I was just joking"). Some people (keep it impersonal, it leaves him less room to defend saying "not me, that wasn't my intention) use that as a way of feeling superior, but it's actually just annoying (and not what a good friend / supportive friend would do)

Would there be too many "you"s in the reply?
I understand the going meta requires you to point out the aggressor's behaviour.
Drafting another possible reply where less "you"s are used.

Slight tweak: When someone makes a mistake and one tells them they're genius, they would feel attacked and made fun of (note; you need the "making fun" part, you can't leave the "attacking" part alone, because since this is covert aggression, he can always go undercover with the usual "I was just joking"). Some people (keep it impersonal, it leaves him less room to defend saying "not me, that wasn't my intention) use that as a way of feeling superior, but it's actually just annoying (and not what a good friend / supportive friend would do)

I am drawing parallels to my response in the thread where my friend power-scalped on my birthday wish.

Lucio's Statement: I wished you happy birthday, which is a kind gesture, and while it might be a few hours early, it feels demeaning when one denies the wishes

My Original Statement: Yes but you are messing with me. When you play with time zones and I wish you happy birthday, it occurs to me that you do not appreciate my gesture.

Maybe it's not a matter of using "you" too much.
It's more about the phrasing.
In my case, using "you" seems accusatory while, in John's case, using "you" is used more objectively to point out the dynamics of the situation.

Assertiveness Vs Going Meta

From all these scenarios, it seems that going meta and assertive communication go hand-in-hand.
Avoid sounding accusatory.
Be very descriptive and precise.

It seems that it achieves a few things

  • Assert your boundary.
  • Give little room for the aggressor to retreat or maneuver.
  • Let everyone understand what is going on.
  • Show people around that you are socially savvy enough to understand covert or microaggressions.

Maybe correct me if I'm wrong.
Is being assertive and going meta similar conceptually?
I feel that being assertive requires you to spell out how their game affects you to a certain degree, which is the meta part of the assertion.

My guess of the difference.
Assertiveness draws more attention to how the person's behaviour affects you, and you state how you would like yourself to be respected.
Meta focuses more on explaining the dynamics of the situation to draw attention to an aggressor's value-taking behaviour.

Mirror Attack - Expanding on John's Technique

Him: You're a genius!

(Reference a past mistake of his)
You: You were a genius when you spilled water on your shirt too! (Mirror and counter-attack with sarcasm)

FULL META 

As a practice to go full meta.
I find that practising full meta sharpens my descriptive skills and understanding of power dynamics.
And allows me to use full meta when necessary.

You: When someone makes a mistake and you tell them they're genius, you are using sarcasm to exploit their mistake to push them down to feel superior. It is a one-upping type of "joke" where you can hide your one-up move under the guise of humour. Imagine you spill someting on your shirt, and I say "what a clumsy man you are". That's the same dyanmic going on. (Full meta part)

**Possible Add-Ons**
(Shame the person for playing games) This discourages people from being comfortable and honest with their mistakes.
(Frame a collaborative atmosphere) Let's help people out of their mistakes rather than capitalising on their mistakes and pushing them down.

I realised some people think I'm over-reacting when going full-meta.
Probably law of social effort.
Saying one paragraph to counter "you're a genius".

And it does not work well if lots of people in the group enjoy power scalping.

Maybe I should live a week going full-meta on all aggressions as a social experiment.
But this would be quite daunting and tiring.

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman

Hey Matthew, yes, your option with less "you" and more neutrality/impersonality is equally good.
Can also be better, depending on the situation.

The impersonal is best for more formal settings, to take some of the edges off, as well as to avoid escalations or "triggering" people who have too thin of a skin.

In this case, I went for "you" because the relationship is more on the friendly / informal level.
Also, the receiver here was being a bit nasty with his games, so I think that a more direct and higher power "you" is also suitable.

But both options are valid.

ASSERTIVE VS META

Matthew: Is being assertive and going meta similar conceptually?

Not necessarily.
Going meta is a technique that you can use to be assertive -in which case, yes, they overlap-.

But one can "go meta" for other purposes, for example, to neutrally explain a concept without any assertion in it.

Much of this website's approach is to "go meta" on social and power dynamics, so that people can understand those concepts, and incorporate them for better social relationships and strategies -which is why you're very correct when you say that going meta sharpens your understanding of power dynamics, because it forces you to think about what's going on-.

And one can also go meta to justify, and thus end up being submissive more than assertive, for example, to explain why did what they did.

Matthew: I realised some people think I'm over-reacting when going full-meta.

Yes, very good observation, that can happen, especially when it's for "minor" infractions that many people don't even realize they are all part of a bigger power-game.

That's why in the first reply I advised to "stagger" the responses.
First a line in the sand -or a few-.
And only if you need to draw many lines in the sand, or if you get a response back, you go meta.

After many instances, or after a response/question, then you have enough investment (or enough previous instances), where going meta is more natural.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Assertion Without Going Meta

Going meta is a technique that you can use to be assertive -in which case, yes, they overlap-.

I do see what you mean.
Because you can draw boundaries respectfully without explaining the underlying dynamics too much.
Describe the behaviour simply, how it affects you, and what you would like to change.

For example using the DESOE technique,

Him: You are a genius.

You: (Describe) When you say that I'm a genius in that tone, (Express) I feel disrespected.
(Specify) I would prefer a more friendly vibe and tone.
(Outcome) I would feel more comfortable around you.

Him (again): You are a genius.

You: (Enforce) I have told you about how I feel when you say I'm a genius in that tone.
It feels like disrespectful after I have told you about how I feel about this.

Going Meta Without Assertion

But one can "go meta" for other purposes, for example, to neutrally explain a concept without any assertion in it.

And vice versa, you can go meta without any assertion.
Which is what we are doing.
We are having a meta conversation, and you are explaining the dynamics of John's situation in a meta manner for all of us to learn.

Keep in Mind Your Investment When Handling Covert/Micro-Aggressions

After many instances, or after a response/question, then you have enough investment (or enough previous instances), where going meta is more natural.

This is very interesting.
Getting the covert/micro aggressor to invest more in attacking is a strategy within a few tactics like

  1. Surfacing and show-me the hand technique
  2. Giving them rope and scorched earth technique

I guess that's the tricky thing about covert/micro-aggression.
It's much easier for people to hide.

And the law of social investment should always be kept in mind.
Be as effective as possible while using the least effort.

Lucio Buffalmano and John Freeman have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn Freeman

Thanks a lot for your amazing answers guys! It's deep and dense. I'll take some time to read it tomorrow. Here is the follow-up:

In the whatsapp group that I created about board games:

  • Me: Happy holiday to all and see you soon for new fits of laughter!
  • A. (so funny): a picture of a board game he bought.
  • A. again: I count on you (plural) to be smarter than 10 years old (because the game is from 10 years old)
  • Me: We count on you as well!
  • A.(backtracking): It's not going to be easy.
  • A.: Merry Christmas guys!
  • JB: (quoting A.) You're asking a lot I think...

I think my other friend did well by going a little bit meta. I think that's the best way of handling and I'm in the process to learning it.

I write as little as possible in this group as all sorts of confusion can happen (see above). I really use it to organize board games. It would be funnier to post funny pictures and videos but then it derails. It sounds a bit military but I find it to be true.

I know I got triggered a little bit by his remarks but I found it a bit insulting. And worse he was insulting all of us. Way to go, man! Insult all your friends in a whatsapp group! Woohoo social intelligence +1!

I think he wanted to be funny and I could have interpreted by looking at the funny side. However he had a history of doing these kind of things half-funny/half-mean.

Worthy tweak? Or too brutal?

And of course he had to try and play the smartass.  (Tried and failed)

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
  • Me: Happy holiday to all and see you soon for new fits of laughter!
  • A. (so funny): a picture of a board game he bought.
  • Me: Cool!
  • A. again: I count on you (plural) to be smarter than 10 years old (because the game is from 10 years old)
  • Me: We count on you as well!
  • A.(backtracking): It's not going to be easy.
  • A.: Merry Christmas guys!
  • JB: (quoting A.) You're asking a lot I think...

Correction, I forgot the line in bold.

It's most likely not personal indeed, and the way people talk is somewhat linked to age, as you state, as well as to general approaches to communication (some people just use a more aggressive register, or use more cussing and bad words than others).

What I meant is: when I was his age, I also thought that cursing was cool. I changed my mind. Not all people his age curse of course.

The mirror technique of saying the same back on him is not bad.
As you correctly and acutely stated in the other thread, it's not always the best possible response, but it's a solid one.

I'm glad we agree.

You: Dude, stop playing the smartass

Or:

You: Dude, don't play that game, it's weak

It's great, thanks! I understand the idea. It's about exposing him while saying it's not ok.

You: When someone makes a mistake and you tell them they're genius, it feels like you're attacking and making fun of them (note; you need the "making fun" part, you can't leave the "attacking" part alone, because since this is covert aggression, he can always go undercover with the usual "I was just joking"). Some people (keep it impersonal, it leaves him less room to defend saying "not me, that wasn't my intention) that as a way of feeling superior, but it's actually just annoying (and not what a good friend / supportive friend would do)

With that, you have provided a solid-enough explanation of the behavior that makes sense to everyone. And that means that you can keep reinforcing and holding to your frame no matter what he says.

Whatever he replies, you can always say "that's not friendly", "that feels annoying", "it's not how supportive people behave", as they all make far more sense than anything he'd reply (of course, because they're all true).

Very powerful. I started to do that. When he does a covert aggression, I expose him. The other day in front of my friends, I could not open a jar (slippy hands) so I took another one and used a towel. Guess what? As soon as I put down the first jar I could not open. Who takes it? Yes, A. And I say as he's opening it: "Well, now you want to show us how you're stronger than me". He finished his little spiel (showing his biceps) but I had already neutralized him by exposing him.

It's great the two spots where he cannot use the defenses: "I'm just joking" and "not me, that wasn't my intention".

BTW, in these situation if he defends with "that wasn't my intention". Would you answer:

  1. I understand it was not your intention. But it's annoying, please stop.
  2. I understand it was not your intention. But it's annoying stop.

Would you use "please" in these situations?

From all these scenarios, it seems that going meta and assertive communication go hand-in-hand.

Good point.

Assertiveness draws more attention to how the person's behaviour affects you, and you state how you would like yourself to be respected.
Meta focuses more on explaining the dynamics of the situation to draw attention to an aggressor's value-taking behaviour.

Interesting developments.

I realised some people think I'm over-reacting when going full-meta.

Probably law of social effort.

Well, if you expand so much effort for something that is not worth the effort, people will wonder why you're so mad. My opinion: sometimes the other person's behavior triggers feelings inside you connected to past experience resembling this one. Sometimes we are stuck in a loop that's coming from the past. We're not reacting to the person in front of us but to a past person (father, mother, etc.). So once we process these experiences, we can react to the person in front of us and not to its "ghost".

But both options are valid.

I agree. Both versions are slightly different and equally effective in my mind.

And one can also go meta to justify, and thus end up being submissive more than assertive, for example, to explain why did what they did.

I agree.

For example using the DESOE technique,

To me, I think this technique is more useful in an intimate setting. Close friends, family, lovers. It's with people you know are fair player and will open up and reciprocate if you do. In this case, there is a power play where one person seeks to be above the others.

I guess that's the tricky thing about covert/micro-aggression.
It's much easier for people to hide.

And the law of social investment should always be kept in mind.
Be as effective as possible while using the least effort.

Good points.
After many instances, or after a response/question, then you have enough investment (or enough previous instances), where going meta is more natural.
Not sure I understood. Investment from whom?
Once again, thank you very much guys this is very helpful. Please excuse the delay of my answer! I'm reading this one several times as it's deep and dense!
Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood

I realised some people think I'm over-reacting when going full-meta.

Probably law of social effort.

Well, if you expand so much effort for something that is not worth the effort, people will wonder why you're so mad. My opinion: sometimes the other person's behavior triggers feelings inside you connected to past experience resembling this one. Sometimes we are stuck in a loop that's coming from the past. We're not reacting to the person in front of us but to a past person (father, mother, etc.). So once we process these experiences, we can react to the person in front of us and not to its "ghost".

To clarify this point, it is more that I choose the wrong technique of going fully meta to counter covert aggression when sarcasm for example would be more appropriate.
Fully meta seems good to me because I can fully highlight what the covert aggressor is playing.
But going fully meta requires relatively more social effort.
As such, even when I am not angry, people may think that I am angry or frustrated.

This goes on well to this point:

After many instances, or after a response/question, then you have enough investment (or enough previous instances), where going meta is more natural.

Not sure I understood. Investment from whom?

We would like the attacker to invest more in his attack.
This achieves 2 things:

  1. The attacker exposes his aggression more outrightly
  2. He invests more into the interaction. This makes your counter-attacks less likely to be seen as over-investing.

We can do this through the techniques in Power University like

  • Surfacing
  • Show me the hand technique
  • Giving them rope, Scorched Earth Technique

My issue of seemingly over-reacting can be resolved by getting the attacker to invest more in the attack.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano
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