Growing up, my parents told me to be humble.
"Don't go around telling everyone what you do and what you've achieved. Let them find out for themselves."
I've taken this advice my whole life, believing I have nothing to prove and no need to show it off. I was taught if I really deserved attention and praise, someone else would share the good news on my behalf and that would garner more respect than if I spread the news myself.
So, how do you deal when you're met with Negative Nancy or Pessimistic Paul, ready with undermining and backhanded compliments? Whether it's at work, a networking event, or even from your cousin twice-removed, it's one of the most frustrating feelings ever. For example:
Nancy: How's work going?
You: It's good, I am working on a big project with a fast-approaching deadline right now so it's a busy time.
Nancy: Oh, that's great to hear they're giving big responsibilities to entry-level employees.
Paul: What do you do?
You: I am opening a restaurant downtown.
Paul: That's such a great achievement for a woman.
Ugh. If you're not familiar with responses like this, they're called backhanded compliments. They're words that are strung together to sound like a compliment, only to deviously undermine you in the process.
Anything you follow up with in this conversation is guaranteed to be met with eye rolls or more backhanded compliments. So, how do you deal? How do you respond when your conversation mate can't stop being so rude?
Take a breath.
Remember this: things people say are a reflection of them, not you. When Paul says it's such a great achievement for a woman, it's because he's insecure about the gender gap and still doesn't know how to deal with a go-getting woman. Don't take this comment to heart, just take a breath and know they're coming from a different place.
Smile and move on.
The body has a fight-or-flight mode. To smile and move on is not a flight, but a recognition this person is not worth your time. If a new acquaintance says something you don't like, you don't have to give them the time of day anymore. Excuse yourself and move on.
Acknowledge the comment head on.
If you're in fight mode, then say something. Ask Paul what he means by, "for a woman" and if he thinks it's a great achievement for a man, too. If it feels like a good moment to teach a quick lesson about gender roles, then stand up for it. It's easy to get heated, but focus on staying calm and address the root of the problem.
It's a judgment call here, but remember to ultimately be the bigger person. You can't change someone's mind if they don't want it changed, so say your peace and move on.
Turn it into your "why."
When things make you upset, let it be the fuel to your fire. If Nancy thinks you're just an "entry-level" employee, then let it push you even harder to get a promotion. When people want to doubt you, let it serve as reason why you will not succumb to their negativity.
Remember, you have nothing to prove. Your actions speak louder than words.
You know yourself best. Although it would be tempting in this type of situation to list off all of your achievements and detail how much of a hard worker you are, let it go. You don't need to say a word. The more you say, the more they have to jab at.
To recover from a frustrating moment like this, acknowledge their insecurities and remind yourself you are fighting a bigger fight. What you end up doing has more significance that what you say you're going to do and at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what this other person thinks or says about it.