Doubling Down on Insults

Humor is well-known to be a great asset in work and life. But what if you have to deal with a person who dishes out a lot of criticism and it just doesn’t seem funny? Try taking the criticism and doubling down. The term comes from blackjack and means risking two cards to get a big win.

A woman I knew was arguing a lot with her brother after their family went through a difficult time. The two fought bitterly, taking turns rearing up with vicious jabs or backhanded insults. With intentional practice and mental grit, she learned how to defuse these fights consistently. Now when he launches an insult or a remark she finds offensive, she pretends her job is to double the insult. So if he barks, “I am really worried about your ability to be focused!” she says, “I have got to be the most unfocused person I have ever met. One minute I am glued to a video game, the next I’m sorting silverware. I am so incredibly unfocused!” A round or two of this behavior, exaggerated a bit more each time, defuses the situation and soon brother and sister are laughing together. The big win is the dose of healing laughter that propels the relationship to the next level.

Managers, too, can hone this technique when dealing with difficult people. A perceived slight is often harmless and can even be used to advantage.


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