What To Do (And Not Do) When Someone Calls You Out

We’ve all been there. Someone points out that something we do, say or participate in is actually super uncool, or even harmful, to a group of people. It’s not a fun spot to be in! We all make mistakes and have a lot of room to grow in our understanding of the world and all the people in it—and that’s okay. However, sometimes our reaction to being called out is to become defensive, dismissive or downright rude. And that is NOT okay.

This reaction is especially not okay when you are responding to someone who belongs to a group who has been marginalized and discriminated against by society at large. Your life experiences are vastly different than theirs and failure to recognize that is very problematic. Unchecked privilege is a dangerous thing and it also makes you look pretty darned foolish.

The next time someone calls you out, STOP and reflect on these points before responding:


Lash out against the person calling you out. It is a normal, biological response to feel defensive when threatened. However, in civilized society, acting on that feeling when the perceived threat isn’t actually a threat is inappropriate. It might make for good daytime TV, but not so much for civil discourse and keeping friends.

Listen to respond. It takes some serious emotional labor to set aside our knee-jerk reactions and, instead, listen to what a person is actually saying. If you are scouring a message for the purpose of refuting points and calculating how you will respond, you are not actually listening.

Shut down your critical thinking skills. This is an effect of clutching onto a defensive emotional response. When this happens, tunnel vision occurs and it is hard to see outside our own worldview. Because you are probably an adult and over the age of 4, you have more than likely acquired the skills to move past this response.

Defend your intent. The intent behind your actions does not matter when someone is explaining to you how the effect has caused harm. You are diverting the conversation away from someone whose life is being affected by your actions and onto you and your feelings about being confronted. This is not okay.

Settle on I just disagree.“ Whether or not broccoli is delicious is an issue upon which people can agree or disagree. Whether or not sexism exists or trans people know what gender identity is theirs is not something upon which people can agree or disagree. You can feel comfortable with the facts or uncomfortable! You can be invested in these issues or apathetic! But you cannot “agree” or “disagree” that these things are real.


Recognize your response as defensive. If you feel your blood start to boil and the first thought in your head is “nuh-uh, not me!”—take a breath. Identify that you are having a defensive reaction. Acknowledge your confusion and discomfort—even voice it! There’s nothing wrong with saying “I feel really uncomfortable when you say this.” Once you cross the line into “You are wrong and me doing this isn’t actually a problem” territory… you’ve lost perspective.

Listen to hear. After you’ve acknowledged your emotional reaction, set it aside and open your ears. Try to really understand the point someone is making. Do your best to see this issue through their eyes. Refrain from oversimplifying the problem so you can more easily discount it. Yes, this is hard to do, but it is necessary.

Open your mind to consider views alternative to your own. Empathy, compassion, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes: Practice it every day. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable sometimes, but it is a requirement of living in a society with other people who are affected by your actions.

Consider the effects of your behavior—regardless of intent. It’s fine to acknowledge the fact that “wow, I really didn’t mean for that to be harmful” or “I had no idea you felt that way when I do that.” Those moments are appreciated by others and promote growth within ourselves when we say them. The next step is moving past that shock and listening to what is being said about the effects of your behavior, regardless of your intent.

Acknowledge someone elses experience as truth—not something upon which you can agree to disagree.“ Just because you have not experienced life through someone else’s eyes does not mean you have the authority to suggest their experiences are not real. When you say “I disagree” that something is a problem for a group of people who are different than you, you are saying you do not acknowledge reality. Instead, you can say “I’m confused,” “I never thought about it that way,” or “that hasn’t been my experience, but I can see how it’s been yours.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago


Jim V
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Bill E
Bill Eagleabout a year ago

Good advice. There are lots of things we don't like to hear, but we need to be able to hear and understand what we are hearing.

Carl R
Carl Rabout a year ago


Leo Custer
Leo Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

Carl R
Carl Rabout a year ago


Vincent T
Past Member 1 years ago

thank you

Carl R
Carl R1 years ago


Michelle Hall
Michelle Hall1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda G
Amanda G1 years ago

Thanks for posting