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Use this 3-word response when someone is rude to you, says Harvard-trained etiquette expert

Acting like a comment didn't offend you could bring along similar remarks.
Smiling businesswoman in discussion with another woman in office.
Here's how you can respectfully respond when confronted with an offensive comment.Thomas Barwick / Getty Images
/ Source: CNBC

When a friend makes a joke at your expense or lobs a “playful” insult your way, it can be hard to know how to proceed.

Acting as if the comment didn’t offend you could invite more of the like, but refuting it might result in conflict or, at least, discomfort. 

It’s in situations like these that Harvard-trained etiquette expert Sara Jane Ho shines.

Ho is the founder of Institute Sarita, a finishing school that focuses on social conventions, and the star of “Mind Your Manners,” a Netflix show where she helps different “students” learn how to use etiquette to improve their own well-being. 

She prides herself on knowing what to say and how to say it, even in situations as uncomfortable as a friend putting you down. 

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a sassy remark, you can counter it with kindness and class with just one question.

“Are you okay?”

“If it were a friend who said something mean to you, I usually look up and say, ‘Are you okay?’,” she says. 

Those three words can signal that even if you don’t take the comment personally, you didn’t really appreciate it. 

Just as important as content is tone, Ho emphasizes. When you say, “Are you okay?” don’t be short or sharp. Use a friendly affect.

“I’m not being offensive back,” she says. “I’m coming from a place of care and that is usually to put the other person in check.” 

I’m not being offensive back. I’m coming from a place of care and that is usually to put the other person in check.

Sara Jane Ho, Etiquette Expert

Saying nothing can convey a similar message, Ho adds, and might be more appropriate if the person insulting you isn’t a friend and requires a bit more formality. 

“Oftentimes, I feel like when people are being rude the best thing is to just not say anything,” she says. “Let everyone wallow, and let them wallow in their misbehavior.” 

Regardless of who is making the negative comment, remember to not let it control your mood. 

“The greatest power is showing that the other person doesn’t have power over you,” Ho says.

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