Make a snappy comeback

Didn’t have the right snappy comeback to a colleague’s subtle put-down or the boss’s accusatory comment?

“You have to be able to respond on your feet at work, and I think some people are becoming less adept at it,” says Kathleen Kelley Reardon.

Reardon recently wrote a book with Christopher T. Noblet called Comebacks at Work, an excellent resource for identifying the kind of verbal interaction that best fits your personality.

Some of her suggestions for comebacks:

Reframing. If things are getting heated, say something like, “This isn’t an argument. It’s just a difference of opinion.”

Rephrasing. If you find yourself offended by a person’s words, suggest another way for him to say it: “Another way you could say that without getting my back up is …”

Rebuking. Take someone to task by saying, “If that was meant to be funny, you missed the mark.”

Requesting. Question the other person by asking, “Can you tell me more about what you just said? I may be misreading something here.”

Revisiting. If you’ve typically interacted well with someone but are now suddenly falling into a bad pattern, try: “We’ve always worked well together. Let’s not change course now.”

Retaliating. Reardon says that this should only be used sparingly. It would come into play only if you need to strike back at someone in an extreme situation. For example, “Since incivility is your style, I have a few choice words for you as well.” Then use them.

Final tip from Reardon: Always ask the other person to clarify what he said, before assuming the worst about a comment.

“Give the other person a chance to do the right thing,” she says. “It’s truly a generous thing to give someone an opportunity to hear what they said.”

— Adapted from “Co-worker’s snide comment is not a reason to stew,” Anita Bruzzese, USAToday.