- What does it mean to undermine someone
- What does it communicate about the underminer (nothing good)
- What to do when someone undermines you
Undermining is anything that eats away at uour perceived value.
You undermine someone when you diminish their authority, the quality of their work, call into question their qualities, morals or ethics or do anything that will cause people to lose respect or self respect.
Now that’s a mouthful, I know, but it will be much clearer with examples.
How to Undermine Someone
There are countless ways to undermine someone. Here are some:
- Highlight their mistake
- Make a joke at their expense
- Directly challenging or attacking them
- Laugh disproportionately at someone’s mistake (it’s a way to highlight it)
- Diminish their achievements
- Imply they might be lying, cheating or inflating stories
- Say someone’s joke is lame
- Correcting an inconsequential mistake
- Adding something after someone’s finished talking
Undermining VS Social Climbing
In a previous article we have talked about social climbing. Such as taking value away from someone for our own social gain.
Undermining and social climbing are are similar and there’s often an overlap. Undermining however doesn’t have to happen in social settings.
It’s because the underminer is not only and not always motivated by social gain, but also by an (unconscious) need to feel better with himself.
And dragging people down is one way to achieve it, whether it’s in a social setting or not.
Why do People Undermine Others
It’s been my life experience that people undermine when there is envy, animosity, low self esteem or somewhat of a “competition mentality”.
People undermine you when you’re in charge or have more social power but they feel close enough to feel that they could be on top. And they resent it.
Undermining your is their way to bring you down so they can go up.
- Low self esteem
Bringing people down is a (sick) way for some to build themselves up. A very sick way. Instead of working on themselves and building alliances of equally cool people, they try to drag you down to make themselves feel better.
- Socially clueless
Some people just don’t know any better. They grew up in family acting in socially retarded way and never realized how damaging it is.
- Power move
Undermining is a way of saying “I can tackle you” or “I’m above you / you’re not that far higher up”. With these people, you better nip it in the bud or they’ll keep going.
But in my experience, power movers are a minority when it comes to undermining, and the majority are in the first three categories.
Here are a few real life examples of undermining someone
#1. The Ironic
It was a hot day a couple weeks ago. But it was a long time I hadn’t rocket my Japanese-styled overcoat, and I decided to take it for a spin.
When I arrived to my location I was greeted with a typical ironic undermining move:
Did you realize it’s 30 degrees today
Well no, I was freezing, but now that you say it, I suddenly realize it’s quite warm indeed -eye rolling-.
#2. Serious Reply to Joke
This is an example taken from a multi chat Whatsapp group. The topic was that opprobrium that is GDPR.
Mine was rather obviously a joke, but the underminer twisted it as if it were a serious comment. And then proceeded to take the authoritative road on me.
This was undermining + power move.
It reminded of this scene in Meet the Parents.
#3. Fixing Useless Mistakes
But not the underminer. Any mistake they can fix is too good an occasion to pass up!
Fixing someone’s mistake is a big shot of confidence for the ego starved. It says “I got you, I’m smarter”.
And the more someone perceives himself being lower on the value scale, the bigger the boost they get from undermining you.
#4. Undermining in Relationships
One of the most heinous forms of undermining happens in relationship. It’s one of the worst because relationships should be the safest place for us, and undermining instead tells our partners that it’s not really “us”, but it’s you VS me.
Here’s an example:
By saying “36.999 of which are mine” he is undermining her achievements and dragging her down. Terrible stuff for any relationship, please don’t do that :).
Why You Must Stop Undermining People
If you catch yourself doing any undermining, start by not being too harsh on yourself. I’ve been there, I sometimes still fall for it.
But at the same time don’t accept that kind of behavior from yourself.
Here’s why we must fix it and eradicate it:
It’s Low Quality
Not undermining is not about being nice and friendly. Undermining is low value behavior.
It’s passive aggressive, sneaky and the most glaring sign of “frenemy”. High value people either speak directly or ignore.
It Wastes Your Own Resources
When you undermine you waste resources and mental cycles on the negative aspects of life. On tearing people down instead of increasing your own value.
It makes you bitter and ugly -in the large sense of the word-.
It Doesn’t Work
Undermining people won’t increase your status. It’s more likely to decrease it!
Not everyone will understand what you’re up to, but they will catch on the negative feeling of disgust that undermining evokes in most people.
How to Deal With Undermining
And now here’s the meat of the article.
How to deal with it!
1. Address it Directly
Prolonged undermining can be annoying and can call into question your actual power, authority, or willingness to confront disresepct.
That’s why addressing it directly, either publicly or privately, can be a good option.
You would start with something like this:
Hey, I’d like to talk you about something. It makes me quite uncomfortable when you…
Two things to remember when you address it directly:
- Either bring specific, clear and recent examples
- Do it as soon as they undermine you
Otherwise if you do it too long after they will play dumb, pretend it’s not true or say they were “just joking“.
2. Take it To the Surface
Undermining comments derive their power by being sneaky and looking almost like normal comments. By questioning you want to push the underminer fully into the “bad guy” side, so that he will show himself for who he is.
At that point, once you make it clear for everyone to see what he was up to, you can either take the high road and drop it or you can address it directly.
I much recommend the former.
Here’s how that would work with the first example:
Underminer: Do you realize it’s like 30 degrees today?
You: It’s a hot day, yes, why are you saying that
Underminer: you’re wearing a jacket
You: And? Is there something wrong with wearing a jacket on a hot day?
See where you’re going?
Now you’re cornering him. You’re basically communicating “why the hell are you criticizing me”, but playing his own game, without being direct.
Now he either comes up with something, and he looks judgmental and narrow minded, or he has to backtrack.
If he backtracks, you won.
If he keeps going, you keep cornering him further before he is so over-extended that it’s just natural to drop your social ax.
Underminer: yeah it makes no sense to wear a jacket when it’s so hot
You: who says that, is there like a law prohibiting to wear a jacket on a hot day
Underminer: not it’s just silly
You: I don’t think so and you sound a bit judgmental today mate. Anyway, good seeing you
You can also use this technique in a bit more of a confrontational tone if the situation calls for it. Here’s a great example from Kevin Spacey
Notice his facial expression: perfect.
3. Ignore It
Never let an underminer get to you. If you can’t ignore it and it’s taking a toll on your psychological well being, then you need to address it with one of the two above options.
But if you can truly and honestly be superior and ignore it without the underminer actually denting your self confidence and your social standing, then you’re golden with just moving forward.
You won’t waste energies on it and you can focus on yourself.
Eventually the underminer will be naturally crushed by the huge distance that you will put between yourself and him.
And they will be free to move on to undermine someone else a bit more on their level.
Don’t Undermine: Build People Up!
Now, here’s an example of a socially skilled, warm and friendly fella.
Compare the first example of my jacket on a hot day with what another socially smarter guy said that same day:
Wow, cool jacket man, as usual you’re on top of the game. Where did you get it
Who do you think I liked most?
But also, let’s drop who I liked most as maybe nobody gives a flying F about that.
Who brought good vibes for everyone? who improved the mood and who everyone else also liked more?
Silly questions, right?
People who make friends, but also people who build alliances and are socially successful don’t undermine people, they build them up!
How High Value People Behave
High value people don’t usually have frenemies who they try to undermine.
They have friends. Or have enemies. Or largely ignore or keep distance from those they can’t make enemies but don’t want to be friends with.
If you have a problem with someone, you talk to them straight. If you don’t like someone, don’t engage them and ignore them. Or say it to their face.
Like Scarface brilliantly explained:
This article was originally entitled “how to lose friends and make enemies”. Then I changed it to make the topic clearer.
But that old title still tells the truth: undermining people will not make you friends and it can easily make you enemies.
All the while, you poison yourself and you broadcast low-value to the world.
They all sound great reasons to stop undermining and start building up.