Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
a Prejudiced Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is  http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/bigot.htm

Updated  01-09-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behaviors. An effective response occurs when you get your  primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers useful responses to someone you experience as significantly bigoted or prejudiced. It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • overviews of effective assertion and empathic listening skills.

  • this perspective on the causes and effects of prejudice


      How would you define "a bigot" to an average teen? Here, it means someone who rigidly declares that some person or group is inferior, superior, and/or dangerous to other "normal" people or groups - for example, men are "better" than women (or vice versa), white people are better than colored, one nationality or religion is superior to another, unbelievers are inferior to believers, and "traditional" biofamilies are superior to divorcing families and stepfamilies. Do you know anyone like this?

      People who disagree with prejudicial attitudes and statements can feel uncomfortable, scornful, hurt, angry, pity, "outrage," "righteous," critical, and perhaps prejudicial ("All bigots are egotistical morons.") Can you recall what you felt the last time you encountered a bigot? How did you respond?

  • lecture or moralize?

  • get sarcastic?

  • tune out / look away?

  • question?

  • confront?

  • argue or fight?

  • repress your feelings?

  • change the subject?

  • walk away / hang up?

  • disagree calmly?

  • pretend?

  • laugh / joke?

      Responses like these are lose-lose. They risk (a) violating your integrity, (b) implying disrespect and disapproval, (c) inviting a dispute, and (d) damaging your relationship. Do you agree?

Response Options

      This brief YouTube clip provides perspective on effective confrontations:

  • Remind yourself of these general guidelines until they become a habit.

  • Consciously avoid any responses like those above.

  • Assess your attitude about your (bigoted) partner. If you don't feel genuine mutual respect and compassion, suspect that a false self controls you. Make freeing your true Self a high priority (Lesson 1);.

  • Check your awareness bubble. If it's not two-person, suspect a false-self controls you.

  • Check your partner's E(motion)-level. If it's "above the ears," use respectful empathic listening (do a "hearing check") to see if it will come down so s/he can hear you.

  • Review why you want to respond - do you need to vent, to inform, or to cause action?

  • If you can, assess whether the person is controlled by a false self now. If so, decide whether to delay responding until their true Self guides them.

  • If appropriate, ask if the person is open to some constructive feedback. If "yes," go ahead. If s/he says "no," or "why," suspect a protective false self.

  • If you need to vent or give feedback, compose and calmly deliver a respectful ''I''-message (assertion) with steady eye contact. That might sound like this:

"(Name), when you say or imply that  ____________ is/are inferior, I feel _______________..."

You can stop there, or add a request or demand:

"...and I need you to (take some specific action)."

If you have said this before and s/he ignored your request, then calmly add an enforceable consequence:

"If you choose not to respect my need, I'm going to (take a specific action)."

  • If appropriate, ask the person to summarize what s/he just heard (do a "hearing check"). /

  • Expect "resistance" to your assertion - i.e. denial, arguing, explaining, blaming, whining, etc., and reply calmly with emp0athic listening and good eye contact. e.g. -

"So you feel I'm being harsh, judgmental, and unreasonable."

  • When s/he's done "resisting" and affirms your hearing check, repeat your assertion calmly, with steady eye contact. Repeat these steps until you feel a resolution.

  • If appropriate, thank the other person for her/his attention and consideration, and/or discuss other issues that may come from your exchange

  • Notice how you feel, and whether you got your need/s met well enough. If so, affirm yourself for responding effectively! If not, review and learn from the process.

      Notice how you feel about these response options. Do they seem practical and do-able? Can you describe how they differ from your normal responses to a prejudiced person? Are you willing to experiment with these communication options?


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common irritating social behaviors. This article offers ways to respond effectively to a bigoted (prejudiced) person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your personal rights as a worthy person,

  • clarity on what you feel and need, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

   For more perspective, read these response-options to arrogant, rigid, egotistical, and combative people. 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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