How to deal with passive-aggressive people that bring up the past

We’ve all made mistakes. Some huge, some small, some catastrophic. Take Robert Downey Jr., he had his troubles with drug addiction but he overcame his demons to emerge as a stronger human being. But there are some people, especially journalists, that aren’t content with letting the past stay where it belongs. Robert Downey Jr. was once interviewed about an upcoming movie but then the journalist slowly changed the topic and started asking inappropriate and irrelevant questions. This video analyzes how Robert calmly dealt with the situation when it would’ve been very easy for him to lose his temper.

So, here’s what you should do if you find yourself in Robert’s situation: If someone is being passive-aggressive with you, maintain eye contact with them. Passive-aggressors usually don’t have the guts to be overtly aggressive. They don’t have the guts to make eye contact. Remember, they’re afraid of direct confrontation. If you maintain strong eye contact with them, you’ll demonstrate that you do have the guts to take them head-on, therefore strong eye contact will deter them from continuing their inappropriate line of questioning.

Along with eye contact, give the passive-aggressor the benefit of the doubt. Humor them. Maybe you misinterpreted their intentions. You don’t want to get angry and then find out that they didn’t mean any ill will. But if they persist with inappropriate questions, give them a friendly warning. Reframe their question and answer it in a way that you want to be perceived.

Here’s how Robert demonstrates the above:

In the interview, the reporter asks Robert, “I’d really like to ask you about a quote you gave to the New York Times. What you once said was, it was after your incarceration, and you said, “You can’t go from a $2000 a night hotel suite to a penitentiary and understand it and come out a liberal.” And I just wondered what you meant by that?”

Robert: “Well, the funny thing is the things you said five, seven years ago are things that made sense to you at the time. I couldn’t even really tell you what a liberal is, so therein lies the answer to your question.”

The reporter doesn’t give up. He asks the same thing in different words: “The statement sort of stands by itself, doesn’t it? I mean, does that mean you’re not a liberal? Or that you came out of prison not being one?”

Robert: “Are we promoting a movie? I’m certainly not going to backpedal on anything I’ve said, actually I wouldn’t say I’m a republican, or a liberal or a democrat. When I was talking to the person who was doing the interview that day, that just happened to be my opinion. The nice thing about opinions is that they can change and flow.

(Please note I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase these quotes)

At this point, the reporter should’ve stopped with the irrelevant questions, but he continued! The questions grew more and more inappropriate. And that’s when Robert put his foot down and simply walked out of the interview. He didn’t storm off, he didn’t lose his temper, he simply said “Bye” and walked away. The lesson here is that the only way to deal with passive aggressive people is the cut them out of your life. You don’t need their toxic presence bringing you down. You worked hard to move on from your past and become a better person, and you deserve better company.

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