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  • Writer's pictureDavid Nagai

How to Confront Bad Behavior (In English)

Updated: May 21, 2021

Have you ever witnessed someone say or do something inappropriate but you didn’t know how to respond?

It’s important for us to confront bad behavior in order to stand up for ourselves as well as for others. However, it can be difficult to know how to respond if we are from a conflict-avoiding culture like Japan or if we are speaking English as a second language.

Here are my tips for how to do a good job of confronting people in English in a way that is honest, diplomatic, and effective.

Ask Questions

Asking questions is a good way to demonstrate a desire to understand why the other person said or did something offensive. It also forces the person to explain their behavior and self-reflect. Hopefully it will result in them realizing their mistake and they will stop misbehaving and even apologize. Or, it may help you fix a misunderstanding.

Here are some examples…

“Can you explain why you did/said that?”

“Why would you say something like that?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Really? Did you just say that?”

“I feel very uncomfortable with what you just did/said. Is there something I’m not understanding? Please explain, because I’m really confused.”

“I'm really sorry, but I’m confused. I feel like what you just said was inappropriate. Am I missing something?”

Direct Rejection

Sometimes a direct rejection of what was said or done is the most appropriate course of action to take. This is true especially in explicitly negative situations, dangerous scenarios, or situations where a vulnerable person is being attacked.

Here are some examples...

“I don’t feel comfortable with what you just said/did. Please stop.”

“No. Apologize now. That is inappropriate.”

“What you just said was disrespectful.”

“Wow, seriously, stop. You are way out of line.”

“If you are going to speak like that I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“What you just said is not okay.”

“If you keep talking like that I’m leaving.”

People who misbehave often continue to do so because nobody confronts them. So in order to protect yourself and others who might be hurt, you have the opportunity to take action. It’s not easy and may cause conflict. But if nobody confronts this type of behavior, well, then there will still be conflict but the bully will have all the power.

My advice is to try one of the basic questions the next time you encounter bad behavior. You might be surprised how powerful one small, timely, honest question can be to change a negative situation into a beautiful moment of justice and change.


Want to connect with the changing world in English?

online or in Yokohama-Motomachi

to expand your:

creative thinking

global awareness

cross-cultural communication

(Advanced and intermediate only)

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