I have been asked a lot of question lately about the best way to confront an asshole. There are times when this isn't a good idea, as it may inflame or anger them even more, and you can get hurt. And, of course, one of the worst things you can do is to call an asshole an asshole (in most cases, I have some close friends who can tell me that, and need to tell me so now and then, and I listen because they are usually right).
It works best when people don't realize how nasty they are being and a polite but firm message can bring them to their senses. I have received a couple emails lately from a fashion model about some of the backstage stage nastiness that goes on in that business. She told me a great story about how she used a respectful but firm message to stop the venom from spewing out of another model:
I took a stand last weekend while one was screaming at me in my face, I simply smiled and said: “When you are rational enough to carry on this conversation without screaming I might be willing to listen, But I WILL NOT TOLERATE YOU TO SCREAM AT ME IN THIS ABUSIVE MANNER.” Then I walked away. She ran after me and hugged me and said she was sorry.
Polite but firm confrontations don't always end this happily, but there is an art to conveying to people that you won't take their abuse any longer in a way that they can "hear" the message, and this model shows the right way to do this; indeed, I heard a similar argument from Ron Reagan (the president's son) when he interviewed me for his radio show last year. He described how he pushed back during the years that he was a dancer to abusive directors, and how it was often an effective way to convince them to be civil. Ron said that his attitude was “You can criticize my work, and I’ll try to improve, but attacking me is unacceptable or I will leave.” Not bad!