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Self-defense against ANY unexpected power moves: the "meta-comment" technique

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More than once we've asked ourselves on this forum this question:

How to react when we're blindsided by X power move?

A very good thread was here on "unexpected requests", which provided great material for PU.

Now I was mulling over a response to a situation I was in the other day.
And I think I may have come up with a good retort that can be easy to remember and generalizable to a lot of situations.

And it's this:

A simple meta-comment on the situation, attack, request... Or whatever power move you have.

The meta-comment is:

  • Brief, one single sentence, and very low-effort
  • Surfacing, highlighting and bringing attention to the nastiness
  • One-up back, meeting nastiness with a display of awareness and power that says "I got your power move, and don't appreciate"

Example

Some examples of how it looks like:

  • Personal question you don't want to reply to

Him: how much do you make
You: that's a weird thing to ask

  • Random covertly aggressive request 

Him: and don't keep doing X as you usually do
You: that's an aggressive way of asking for something

  • Random covert racism / one-up

Him: the Italian guy is late as usual
You: that's a racist thing to say

"Racist" is a strong word, you can use it purposefully to push them on the defensive if you felt that it was very power-taking for you.
Otherwise, you can just say "that's a big generalization to make".

  • Covert aggression masked as humor

Him: good to see our friend here, he only comes out when there is a free lunch
You: that's a nasty joke to make to a friend

  • Humor / power - move

And this is the situation I was in the other day that caught me totally off-guard.

After a very pleasant evening, I wasn't even sure if it was a bad joke, a power move, or an actual request from someone who didn't have the courage to speak clearly.

In that case, use the "meta catch-all" keyword:

Her: and please stop doing house repair at 1 am
Me: that's a weird thing to say as a goodbye

Format

The simple forms if you find no words are:

  1. "That's"
  2. "A (weird" / "unfriendly" / "aggressive") thing to
  3. "Do / say"
  4. Optional: add something that frames it as particularly weird / unfriendly / aggressive given the situation. For example "to say to a friend", or "to say as a goodbye" or "to ask to someone you've just met", etc. etc.

"Weird" is a good all-season workhorse.

It's a word I dislike and that I advise  to abstain from unless you're in self-defense. It doesn't belong to the eagle dictionary when in win-win mode.

It's a nasty-level judge power move and implies that one "does not belong" and that not only he's not "good enough", but not even "normal enough".

However, for self-defense, everything can be fair game.

Thoughts?

I'm still mulling this over, so any thoughts or feedback just let me know.

Ali Scarlett, John Freeman and 7 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanlilsimAnonXHAlexMats GBeldsnw2022
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

I like this idea.

So far, I've been using this framework:

You: (neutral statement) That's certainly one way to...

Said with a neutral, James Bond-like tone, it's been a good way for me to avoid getting over-emotionally invested in some of the games people play.

For example:

  • Personal question you don't want to reply to

Him: How much do you make
You: That's certainly one way to get to know someone

  • Random covertly aggressive request 

Him: And don't keep doing X as you usually do
You: That's certainly one way to ask for something

  • Humor / power - move

Her: And please stop doing house repair at 1 am
You: That's certainly one way to say goodbye

I think you get the idea.

Your framework seems to include a small one-up though. And, I think that's better for preserving status when it's in response to a move that's too damaging for a neutral statement.

Todd V seems to use a similar approach to handling shit-tests:

Her: Good to see our friend here, he only comes out when there is a free lunch
You: That was weird, can we go back to being normal now?

It adds a fourth level to the meta-comment style:

  • Brief, one single sentence, and very low-effort
  • Surfacing, highlighting and bringing attention to the nastiness
  • One-up back, meeting nastiness with a display of awareness and power that says "I got your power move, and don't appreciate"
  • Collaborative frame, seeking to move away from the nasty behavior toward communication that's better for everyone
Lucio Buffalmano, Anon and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAnonBeldsnw2022
Quote from Ali Scarlett on February 6, 2022, 6:23 pm

Her: Good to see our friend here, he only comes out when there is a free lunch
You: That was weird, can we go back to being normal now?

  • Brief, one single sentence, and very low-effort
  • Surfacing, highlighting and bringing attention to the nastiness
  • One-up back, meeting nastiness with a display of awareness and power that says "I got your power move, and don't appreciate"
  • Collaborative frame, seeking to move away from the nasty behavior toward communication that's better for everyone

Great stuff Lucio. I also like your approach Ali. I think as in other threads, they are variations depending on the context.

Regarding Todd V. I would personally not use "can we go back to being normal now?".

  • It's a bit over-invested.
  • He's also asking permission, which sounds submissive to me.
Lucio Buffalmano and Ali Scarlett have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli Scarlett

Thank you for the feedback guys!

Yes Ali, your approach is pretty much the same, but with higher warmth and lower power -you had that big technique in your arsenal and you weren't sharing it? :D-.

As John says, a variation depending on context.

I'll make a note to add this one to PU, so any more feedback, variations or real-life examples using it that you stumble upon, happy to read.

 

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

Having handy catch all answers for these situations is very useful in my opinion.

They can prevent the resentment which usually appears following off-guard incidents with no response.

I can speak from direct experience for the:

That's weird to do

Especially when it was used to judge a decision that was made by the leader of the group.

I used it as defense of course since the decision was going to negatively affect me without my consent and the decision was indeed not proper given the known facts.

 

And the result? It escalated to the most intense & heated disagreement in our relationship with him trying to prove that it was not weird & me holding the frame until he agreed that he misinterpreted some input that led to his wrong decision.

 

Months later, he mentioned how hurtful it was for him and next time he prefers to get such comments only in private conversation.

 

Indeed 'weird' can be very powerful. I visualize it as me hitting back with a rocket.

 

Lucio Buffalmano and Bel have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoBel

I like this thread a lot. Learning how to respond to power moves was exactly what brought me here. And I had lots of power moves used on me all my life that I wasn't even aware of.

Benefits of the meta-comment technique

Having a stock phrase to use in any circumstance is a wonderful idea. I think the approach you suggest ("That's a weird/aggressive/nasty/impolite thing to say") accomplishes several things at once:

a) it gives you time to think; then, on the basis of your more thoughtful analysis and of their response, you can choose to either drop it, or expand on it by using another more tailored approach;

b) it regains you public social power, while also publicly showing your availability to de-escalate on the basis of the response you get;

c) you can default to it when you are unprepared: the really damaging power moves are after all the unexpected ones, from people that have maybe faked being your friends for x days/weeks/months only to show later their real nature in front of everyone and defect against you;

d) you can default to it when you are confused and/or doubtful about the intention, i.e. to "test the water": the response you get is also an indicator of the other person's intention.

Defending against patterns of behavior

Sometimes, I only realize something is a power move after a person repeats the word/sentence/behavior more than once: it is the pattern of behavior that uncovers the nastiness behind it. So we could think of adding something like the following to the options, to be used as soon as you realize the other person is going through a pattern:

"That's the same thing you asked me/did before/last time"

You can then segue into the meta-comment technique or into the below.

A possible "stock" precursor

To avoid one-upping immediately, we could also limit the initial response to the surfacing, in a way that leaves you room to then drop it (thus using the "least social effort principle") or go with the one-up:

Why do you ask/say/do that?

or

Why do you keep asking/saying/doing that?

Then on the basis of the response:

That's a weird/aggressive/nasty/impolite thing to ask/say/do/keep asking/saying/doing.

A possible "stock" recovery move

What if someone power-moves on you and you are triggered into responding submissively or in a socially graceful (but wrong) way?

The other day the following happened to me:

Me: (Entering a store) Hi, I need to return this belt.

Shopkeeper: Nice belt, thank you very much (implying I was gifting it to him).

Me: My pleasure.

After 5/10 seconds I realized the power move, but then thought "ok, too late now to respond".

But maybe we could think of a stock phrase to be used in these cases to "go back and recover", something like:

Now that I think of it, I'm not sure about (insert the thing the other person did, said or implied, in this case:) giving you this present.

Simple, broad and instantly available is just the perfect combination - what a great thread.

Some more ideas:

 

Calling them out without the one-up back:

You: Did you just [whatever they did] ?

You: Did you just call me stupid?

You: Did you just try to ignore me on purpose?

 

Thread expands on their power move but doesn't really hit back.
So while it avoids being a doormat it also could still work against people who have power over you and don't mind using it.

 

Variation:

You: Did he just call me stupid?

Creates an ingroup without the power-mover.

 

Another option:

Said with a serious and annoyed tone:

Him: good to see our friend here, he only comes out when there is a free lunch

You: Yes [name], I'm just here to take your french fries.

This is in contrast to saying it jokingly (agree and amplify frame, generally not recommended).

 

Lucio Buffalmano and Bel have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoBel

John on one of your threads you had a nice sequence of surfacing, slap down and then rapport repair.  And I'm sure I'd know it from PU too if I was a better student.

Guys - instead of "can we go back to being normal now?". Do you think we could do the rapport repair with this?

'Lets move on' (and then change topic)

 

Bel has reacted to this post.
Bel
Quote from XH on February 6, 2022, 8:28 pm

Having handy catch all answers for these situations is very useful in my opinion.

They can prevent the resentment which usually appears following off-guard incidents with no response.

I can speak from direct experience for the:

That's weird to do

Especially when it was used to judge a decision that was made by the leader of the group.

I used it as defense of course since the decision was going to negatively affect me without my consent and the decision was indeed not proper given the known facts.

 

And the result? It escalated to the most intense & heated disagreement in our relationship with him trying to prove that it was not weird & me holding the frame until he agreed that he misinterpreted some input that led to his wrong decision.

 

Months later, he mentioned how hurtful it was for him and next time he prefers to get such comments only in private conversation.

 

Indeed 'weird' can be very powerful. I visualize it as me hitting back with a rocket.

 

Thank you for sharing this XH!

Great example of how it can work in your favor -or what can happen if someone uses it on you, and you let it get under your skin: you become an emotional muppet chasing their approval-.

XH has reacted to this post.
XH
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Bel on February 6, 2022, 10:23 pm

Benefits of the meta-comment technique

Having a stock phrase to use in any circumstance is a wonderful idea. I think the approach you suggest ("That's a weird/aggressive/nasty/impolite thing to say") accomplishes several things at once:

a) it gives you time to think; then, on the basis of your more thoughtful analysis and of their response, you can choose to either drop it, or expand on it by using another more tailored approach;

b) it regains you public social power, while also publicly showing your availability to de-escalate on the basis of the response you get;

c) you can default to it when you are unprepared: the really damaging power moves are after all the unexpected ones, from people that have maybe faked being your friends for x days/weeks/months only to show later their real nature in front of everyone and defect against you;

d) you can default to it when you are confused and/or doubtful about the intention, i.e. to "test the water": the response you get is also an indicator of the other person's intention.

Exactly, you explained it better than I could have.

Quote from Bel on February 6, 2022, 10:23 pm

Defending against patterns of behavior

Sometimes, I only realize something is a power move after a person repeats the word/sentence/behavior more than once: it is the pattern of behavior that uncovers the nastiness behind it. So we could think of adding something like the following to the options, to be used as soon as you realize the other person is going through a pattern:

"That's the same thing you asked me/did before/last time"

You can then segue into the meta-comment technique or into the below.

This is great.

Yes, it's perfect to recover against previous losses, because it sub-communicates:

"I actually always understood you were being a nasty game player, but I let it slide a few times and gave you a chance. It's only now that you stick to being nasty that I bring it up".

Quote from Bel on February 6, 2022, 10:23 pm

A possible "stock" precursor

To avoid one-upping immediately, we could also limit the initial response to the surfacing, in a way that leaves you room to then drop it (thus using the "least social effort principle") or go with the one-up:

Why do you ask/say/do that?

or

Why do you keep asking/saying/doing that?

Then on the basis of the response:

That's a weird/aggressive/nasty/impolite thing to ask/say/do/keep asking/saying/doing.

Yes, very good one to start lower down on the power scale and more friendly.

Gives them a chance to self-correct without delivering the "one-up" back just yet.

I think that stock answer is in PU, but I think it might be highlighted as a simple "catch all answer" to go alongside this one (thank you for reminding, super helpful!).

Quote from Bel on February 6, 2022, 10:23 pm

A possible "stock" recovery move

What if someone power-moves on you and you are triggered into responding submissively or in a socially graceful (but wrong) way?

The other day the following happened to me:

Me: (Entering a store) Hi, I need to return this belt.

Shopkeeper: Nice belt, thank you very much (implying I was gifting it to him).

Me: My pleasure.

After 5/10 seconds I realized the power move, but then thought "ok, too late now to respond".

But maybe we could think of a stock phrase to be used in these cases to "go back and recover", something like:

Now that I think of it, I'm not sure about (insert the thing the other person did, said or implied, in this case:) giving you this present.

Good mini case study.

How about a neutral meta-comment, for example:

Me: (Entering a store) Hi, I need to return this belt.
Shopkeeper: Nice belt, thank you very much (implying I was gifting it to him).
Me: I don't know about that

You lose nothing, and by avoiding submitting to his frame, you also gain a little.

It's not major win, but it fits the goal of what we're looking for: something broad, effective, and that you can easily come up with in whichever situation when "you don't know about a better / smarter reply".

Transitioned and Bel have reacted to this post.
TransitionedBel
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
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