Have you ever been in that awkward position of having overheard someone say something rude or disrespectful about you or someone you know? Especially if that thing is false or exaggerated? If you answered ‘yes,’ you are not alone – almost everyone has been faced with that exact dilemma at some point in their life.

Many of us do not feel comfortable telling people that they are wrong or that they are malicious, but it is not all that difficult to do if you know how to handle the situation.

Here are several templates that can help you to tell someone they are out of line.

Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.

Script 1 | Conversation Between Acquaintances, e.g. School Mums


Hey [Insert Name],
I heard you telling Melody that I shout at my children ‘all the time’. I must admit I found it quite difficult to hear you saying this.
I imagine your comments came from hearing me shout at my children on Tuesday, when Riley was about to push Megan out into traffic because they were so engrossed in their game. I had to shout to get their attention, and yes, I was cross and frightened and I scolded him. Please do not judge my whole parenting style on one moment that you did not observe in full. If you had seen any child about to tumble out into the road, I’m sure you would have shouted too!
Thanks, and I hope to see you at the summer fair on Wednesday.
All the best,
[Insert Your Name]

This text pinpoints the inaccuracy in the story going around and makes clear that you directly overheard the gossip, so there is no way for the other person to deny it. The issue is then tackled robustly, but calmly, giving a very reasonable explanation.

The situation is then defused by drawing a line under it with ‘Thanks’ and moving briskly on to the next school event showing that this incident will not interfere with future interactions at the school.

Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Script 2 | Keeping It Cordial: A Senior Colleague or Manager to Someone Subordinate to Them


In this case, the best informal way to deal with the issue is a quick informal chat, for example, let us say it is going-home time, and the person who has been spreading gossip is in the lift, alone:

Hi [Name], hold the lift please? Thank you.
Oh, by the way, I overheard you telling [Name] earlier today that [Insert Name] can be [Insert variable]. That is a rather inappropriate word to use to describe someone who has worked their way up through the company to be the first female General Manager. It’s especially disrespectful to [Name], who has never been anything but fair with her staff members.
Yes, she is firm and she expects her employees to work to the best of their ability – as would any manager. I have two pieces of advice for you – observe [Name’s] work ethic closely, with an open mind. You will learn a lot from her if you do. And secondly, perhaps don’t denigrate senior management in public places: what if [Name] herself had heard you?
Have a good evening and see you tomorrow.

This is a good warning tone to take with a subordinate if you want to avoid a formal disciplinary scenario.

Keeping the talk confined to a lift or while walking out of the building ensures that it is short and sweet, and allows the person being spoken to walk away to consider what you have said. Hopefully, they will come to work the next day determined to show a bit more respect to the hardworking Shirley!

Script 3 | With a Work Friend  


Hi [Insert Name], 
I wonder if you could do me a favor: apparently, there are stories going around that I’ve been having a lot of time off work and that I’m lazy. I don’t know who’s spreading them, but I’d like you to help me combat this.
The truth is that I have a persistent back injury from a botched surgery and I can’t sit for hours at a desk: 8 hours in an office chair would leave me crippled for a week. The bosses know this, and they are happy for me to work remotely a lot of the time as I have a special orthopaedic chair at home. I can work for four or five hours, take a break, and then work for another four or five hours using my chair, but using a regular chair and desk leaves me in agony after just two hours. As long as I do my work on time, my manager is more than satisfied.
If you hear anyone saying that I don’t pull my weight, please could you a) tell them to check my work log – they’ll soon see that I more than meet my targets and b) let them know to speak to me directly, rather than spreading rumours? I know I can trust you to help me sort this all out.
Thanks, I’ll see you on Wednesday when I pop in with my paperwork.
[Insert Your Name] 

By emailing the source of the rumour without blaming them, you are cutting out anyone else who might interfere with your attempt to end any internal office nastiness, and you are avoiding any unpleasantness between the two of you. You are also saying that you trust them, and hopefully that will encourage remorse for their rude behaviour.

If you're looking to develop your communication skills for professional environments even further, we think you’ll like the following video course from LinkedIn Learning.
Click here for full access to "Working with Difficult People" On LinkedIn Learning
In this course, Chris Croft shares methods for recognizing the characteristics of some of the most common types of difficult people, and gives you strategies for dealing with these individuals more effectively. Chris provides practical techniques for dealing with a variety of different behaviors, including negativity, aggression, childishness, and selfishness. Plus, he explains how to overcome your own negative thinking, and get the best from a difficult boss.

Script 4 | Maintaining Discipline in School: Teacher to Child


‘[Insert name], could I have a word please?’
Ensure the door is closed and that no one can overhear you telling off the child – discipline is one thing, humiliation, especially in today’s world of never-off social media, is entirely another.
‘I overheard you saying something quite nasty about Ms. Johnson. Do I need to repeat it to you?’
Most of the time, this will result in a head-shake ‘no’, as the child will be appalled that their words are coming back to them from a teacher.
‘Ms. Johnson might not be your favorite teacher, but she is your teacher and as such, you should show her respect at her place of work. In the future, please think before you say anything so nasty again – you would not like it if people said mean things about you, would you?’

Keeping your tone neutral will help the child to see that while they have done a bad thing, they are not necessarily a bad person – a reassurance that everyone needs from time to time. If they offer an apology, always accept it immediately, as children need to learn that saying sorry does work! Also turning the situation around, asking them how they would feel if it was done to them, is a good way to encourage empathy and understanding. Once the child shows they understand, give them a quick hug or pat on the back and send them on their way.

Letter 5 | Speaking Up to a Manager


This is a formal letter, typed and printed, but signed in ink, sealed in a Private and Confidential envelope.

‘Dear [Insert Name],
I was in the stockroom, sorting out the stationery this afternoon, and I could not help but overhear your comment that my hair, ‘looks like Einstein’s grandchild’. While I am not exactly sure what you meant by that, I get the gist. 
I found it quite upsetting that someone I look up to and admire as much as you could talk about me in such a way. It has made me lose a little bit of respect for you, to be honest.
I was not sure how to tell you that I had overheard you, but I felt that I needed to say something. I hope you can appreciate my point of view?
[Your Name]

Berating your superiors is never easy and it can even be unwise, so do temper your determination to have your say with caution as to the security of your job.

Deciding if and how to tell someone they are out of line is never easy. Once you have decided that you deserve more consideration from a superior, be mindful that your job may depend on them, even if you are absolutely correct to call them out.

Explain what you have heard and then let them know that their behavior was inappropriate or unacceptable. If you can do so in a way that appeals to their better nature, so much the better. While tackling poor behavior is never easy, you should find some satisfaction in knowing that you have pointed out your poor treatment.

Any of these templates can be adjusted to suit your particular scenario and hopefully using them will encourage an apology to be offered, along with a modification of the undesirable behavior going forward.

At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.  

If you’re interested in further reading, we’ve also included links to our trusted resources and related posts below. To find out more about NTRW and our recommended tools, you can do that here.

Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!

Article by Never the Right Word

Scripts & Templates for Life’s Uncomfortable Conversations. Learn more about NTRW here. NTRW is supported by adverts and affiliate marketing links. For more info, please see our Earnings Disclosure.

This site does not constitute legal, mental, or medical health advice, please consult a competent licensed professional. If you have questions please Contact Us.

Never the Right Word

Never the Right Word

Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation. Learn more about me here.

In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.

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