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Snappy comebacks WHEN you need them

By Lynne Curry

The snappy comeback you wish you’d had when “Jim” sniped at you in the meeting, and you sat frozen and speechless.

The silencing comment you wish you’d given “Brenda” when you walked past the break room and you heard her dissing you.

Why don’t those comebacks arrive when you need them?

Here’s why…

When you experience a verbal attack or another threat, your habitual neural pathways get tripped. Your body moves into high-alert survival mode.

Your body tenses and heart rate speeds up; you breathe rapidly and shallowly. You feel flushed or sweaty; turn white or red; and may feel nauseated or a knot in your stomach.

The solution? Pause and breathe. By pausing and slowing your breathing, you activate your parasympathetic system, slow down your heartbeat, and return your body to its relaxed state.

In addition to inhaling deeply and exhaling fully, physically ground yourself. Feel your feet on the floor or how you’re sitting on the chair. Drop your shoulders and relax your face. By relaxing physically, you’ll not only look more relaxed, you’ll feel more at ease.


Strategy #1: Develop an arsenal of easily remembered statements you can use when attacked.

“Give it a rest” lets a sniper and those hearing the snipe know you’re calling “game over.” You can ask, “Pardon me?” as if you can’t believe the gossiper or sniper meant the insulting remarks. A calm says you don’t think the individual who attacked you or your ideas in a meeting has made one. (With this last one, don’t let an edge sneak into your voice tone.)

Strategy #2: Take control.

When someone slams you with a putdown, train yourself to take a breath and ask a question. By asking a question, you take control of the encounter. If a sniper in a meeting insults your work by saying, “This proposal isn’t well thought-out,” and you ask, “What parts of it do you believe need fleshing out?” you force the sniper to answer you. With the gossip situation, you can take control by saying, “Please continue. I hadn’t heard that gossip about me” or “I can always use improvement-oriented advice.” (Remember to breathe first so you can speak in a relaxed, not snarky voice).

Lynne Curry, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP and author of “Navigating Conflict” (Business Experts Press, 2022); “Managing for Accountability (BEP, 2021); “Beating the Workplace Bully,” AMACOM 2016, and “Solutions” is President of Communication Works, Inc. and founder of, which offers more than 400 articles on topics such as leadership, COVID, management, HR, and personal and professional development.  Curry has qualified in Court as an expert witness in Management Best Practices, HR and Workplace issues. You can reach her at or follow her @lynnecurry10 on twitter.









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