You have probably encountered individuals who do not respect
Persons who cross over them whenever they feel like it.
The way they see it: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine also.”
Such persons are walking provocations.
They intrude into your space, and—right in front of you—help themselves
to something of yours without asking.
When you are working, they destroy your quiet concentration by walking
in and taking over the room with blaring music or loud talk on their cell.
When you are having a conversation with a friend, they barge in and insert
their own arrogant and unsolicited opinions on the topic you are discussing.
People who carry out such provocations generally do them suddenly,
so as to catch you off guard. They figure you won’t know how to react.
The first time they pull one of their stunts they are testing you.
If you let them get away with it, you can expect more of the same.
I would like to offer you a way to make sure they only do it once.
It is to be used only with everyday provoker types, not with angry, abusive
individuals. Those you are better off avoiding entirely!
Are you with me?
Let’s DO this!
A lunch I still remember—and he probably does, too
I invented this technique in the heat of the moment,
in response to an intrusion that was entirely unexpected.
I call it “giving someone the spoon.”
In this case, an actual spoon was used, but the technique uses no object.
Giving someone the spoon is a metaphor for dealing with them this way.
So here’s the story:
Many years ago, I come down to have lunch in the cafeteria of the psychiatric
hospital where I am working as a clinical psychologist.
I sit down at one of the tables with my tray of lunch.
A social worker, a man much younger than myself whom I recognize but
don’t know, comes over and asks if he can join me.
I say Sure. He sits down across from me, and puts down his tray.
It’s a narrow table, just wide enough for his tray and mine.
We sit there and start up a collegial conversation, while eating our
sandwiches. My sandwich is on my plate near me, and I also have a dish
of chocolate pudding at the top of my tray.
We have finished our sandwiches, and I am in the middle of a sentence
when this guy–smoothly and suddenly–picks up his spoon and
reaches across his tray toward my chocolate pudding.
I have lightning reflexes, and my right hand instantly grabs my spoon
and I cross swords with him right above my pudding.
Stunned, he retracts his hand. I complete my sentence, and continue
talking with the guy AS IF NOTHING HAPPENED.
No outward change in my attitude toward him.
(Inward change: What a jerk. I’ll show him he has no power over me.)
I do not even pause or change my expression.
I continue looking him in the eyes as I talk, just as before.
I say nothing about the incident.
Nor does he.
I proceed to eat my pudding, exactly as I would have.
We finish our lunch.
I graciously take my leave.
The man never comes near me again.
How to give someone the spoon
- Your response to the intrusion must be swift. Ideally, silent.
- It is directed only at stopping the intrusion itself, nothing more.
- It uses only as much force as is necessary to block the intention
of the intruder.
- It is conducted without paying the slightest attention to the intrusion.
- The conversation, or whatever else is going on at the time,
continues without interruption–as if the intrusion never occurred.
- There is no verbal reference made to the intrusion, during or after.
- The intruder is not punished or shamed.
He is treated exactly the same as before his intrusion.
His act is stopped, but otherwise entirely ignored.
Why it works
Persons who intentionally intrude are weak, and have a victim mentality.
They provokes others in order to make themselves feel strong.
Getting an angry rise out of you makes them feel powerful.
They expect and even hope for retaliation, which they will frame as unjust.
Being treated “unjustly” gives them the “proof” they seek,
that they are the innocent victim of others.
“Why are you so sensitive???” they will whine at you, if you tell them off.
They will always paint you as the one with the problem.
The one who should apologize and explain.
when you–instead–simply stop their intrusion, swiftly and decisively,
without giving them their anticipated “overreaction,” nor their precious
“injustice,” their provocation is a complete flop. A total failure.
So, what does the provoker get?
He gets no illusion of power.
He gets no “proof” of his “victim hood.”
He gets no opportunity to wallow in self pity.
Instead, he gets a sudden silent defeat.
This is a complete and utter shock to him.
And what does he learn?
He learns you are stronger than he is.
You have quietly demonstrated to him that you’ve got his number,
and that he is no match for you.
How will he feel?
He will feel ridiculous.
What will he do?
He will leave you alone.
What situation do you face in daily life where you might consider
quietly giving someone the spoon?
I would be interested to hear!