How to Stand up for Yourself, the Scandinavian Way

You have to know what you’re dealing with to be able to combat it.

Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash

1. Ignoring

When someone pretends you don’t exist, for instance by doing something else while you are speaking, or trying to shift attention away from you.

Situation:

It’s Monday morning, and you’re sitting in a meeting. You prepared an amazing presentation and thoroughly stressed about it over the weekend. Your boss is done with his updates, and soon it’s your turn to start speaking.

Counter-strategy:

Take up space. Don’t shy away from reclaiming people’s attention, especially when you have a right to it, like at work. Moreover, don’t spend mental energy doubting the validity of the points you made. If others are interested, they will actively challenge your ideas even when they don’t agree.

2. Ridiculing

When someone, unable to come up with a valid rebuttal, tries instead to invalidate someone’s argument by ridiculing them personally.

Situation:

Tuesday evening. You’re chilling at home with your laptop and a cup of tea. Finally, some time to yourself.

Counter-strategy:

Ask for clarification. Don’t show shame, since that would amount to letting the insulter win. Instead, you could ask something like “what do you mean by this?”. You know exactly what they meant, but it doesn’t matter. Most people don’t expect this follow-up and will stumble all over themselves when asked. They will feel ashamed.

3. Withholding Information

When someone willingly excludes someone from an exchange of information, with the intent of leaving that person in the dark.

Situation:

Wednesday night rolls around. A friend in your circle, Gina, is having birthday drinks at a bar, and you’re on your way there. She said she really didn’t want any presents, and you took that to the letter. After all, you can always buy her a drink, right?

Counter-strategy:

Remind them you’re part of the group. You could start by praising the initiative. Ask if you could still contribute to the money pool for the gift (after the party itself is over — we don’t want Gina to know how much the gift cost, do we?).

4. Damn You if You Do, Damn You if You Don’t

When, no matter how you change your actions, someone will be ready to criticize you.

Situation:

Thursday morning. Another day, another meeting. Yesterday, your boss let you know that he thinks you’re too quiet. You should try and make yourself heard more.

Counter-strategy:

Align expectations. This is a tricky one because it involves two people, or groups thereof, each of which wants something different from you. Of all the scenarios I described so far, this is the least likely to involve actual assholes. It’s more about conflicting expectations. Yet, you still have to deal with it. It’s simple, really — at least one of the involved parties (you included) has set unreasonable expectations. Make sure you know what matters most to you, and then explicitly define a way to achieve it that works with everyone.

5. Shaming and Blaming

When someone implies that you are to blame for a situation that was not your fault.

Situation:

Friday evening. You are, once again, out for drinks, this time with your team. Greg orders shots for the group. And then a few more, and a few more after that.

Counter-strategy:

Challenge your shame. What’s behind the shaming and blaming? I used a classic case of victim-blaming as an example here. It’s really explicit — you are being blamed directly. Again, ask for clarification, in this case. “What do you mean by dressed provocatively?”, or similar “obvious” questions, can always help bring to light the sheer stupidity of the jerk’s argument.

Final Thoughts

Apologies — I put you through a terrible week just to explain my points. None of these behaviors is news to anyone, really. In the original research, most of them were presented with examples from a variety of work situations. I tried to offer more general examples so that more readers can get value out of the strategies. Not just 9–5 professionals. And even though the main character in this story was a woman, the strategies apply to men as well.

Writer of sorts.

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