Interview: How To Handle Fan Interaction

In light of anecdotes related to me through this site and elsewhere about in-person problems some of you are facing, I decided to pose some questions to Dr. Ellen Connell.  You might remember her from Her Universe’s Ask Ellen column.  She is now in private practice in the Washington, D.C. metro area but kindly took the time to answer some questions that might be beneficial to all of you.  I have decided to close comments.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns you can e-mail me at SWPASadmin@gmail.com.  My questions are the text in boldface.  Thanks to Dr. Connell!

If you are at a convention or some other fan-related event and a fan decides to act negatively toward you (i.e. not-so-good-natured teasing, name calling, saying you’re not a real fan, harassment, threats, etc.) because that person doesn’t like your t-shirt or costume, what should you do?

When someone puts you down or wants to start an argument or altercation with you, this is because of that person’s own insecurities or issues. You, or the shirt/costume you are wearing, did not make the other person become aggressive toward you. If someone doesn’t even know you and is aggressive toward you, this is not personal. Perhaps they don’t like the character or show on your shirt, and if they are already feeling angry or insecure about something, they might decide that your shirt offends them. Again, this is not about you. If someone is being aggressive toward you, do what you can do to protect yourself without amplifying the situation. Try to stay as calm as possible by taking deep breaths, feeling your abdomen expand and contract with each breath. Feel your feet firmly on the ground; if it helps to wiggle your toes in order to feel your feet, do so. If you feel that you are in danger, contact security and ask for help. Do not let the situation escalate due to pride. You can say “That’s not cool,” but the best thing to do is to walk away or go on with your business. People who are aggressive out of the blue are wanting escalation; don’t give them what they want.

If you are conversing with fans at a convention and the discussion gets heated and out-of-hand, what’s the best way to diffuse the situation?  

If you notice that you are getting heated and becoming angry, the best thing to do is to take a break. If you don’t want the discussion to escalate into physical violence or hurtful words, do your part to stop the conversation right there. If everyone is clinging to their own opinions, then the discussion will never come to a resolution until someone agrees to end it. If you feel able to acknowledge what is happening, you could say, “Looks like we’re all getting riled up. We may have to agree to disagree on this one.” It can also be helpful to pay attention to what you’re trying to get out of the discussion. Are you hoping that people will agree with you and say that you’re right? Ask yourself whether you are willing to get physically hurt or to lose a friendship in order to be right. Being right all the time can be a lonely way to live. Agreeing to disagree is often the kindest solution.

What should you do if someone assaults you first?

I want to reiterate that these are my opinions, and since I am a pacifist, I do not advocate escalating a violent situation. In general, when people are emotionally flooded or hijacked, meaning that their adrenaline is pumping and their emotion is taking over, it is very difficult for people to think logically. The only way to bring logic and order to a situation, is to calm the body down, and to lower your blood pressure so that you can think more clearly. It can be difficult to do so when you also become emotionally flooded. If someone assaults you first, you should focus on protecting yourself and not escalating the situation. This likely means removing yourself from the situation and getting help by contacting security. Once you are removed from the situation, do what you can to calm yourself down by taking deep breaths, talking to a friend etc. Others might say that if you have received training in how to stop an attacker, you could try to do so. In general, however, I think it is best to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as you can. Escalating the situation rarely helps, in my opinion.

How do you keep your cool when people in the workplace, family gatherings, etc. start saying negative things about what you love and they may or may not know you’re a fan?

If the people in your life insult something you love, and they don’t realize that you love it, then they are stating their own personal opinion, and they are not trying to insult you. It is possible that they would not say those things around you if they knew you were a fan. In this situation, it is helpful to remember not to take it personally. You could always let the person know you’re a fan by saying, “Hey, I actually like [the prequels, or whatever show/character/film it is], so what you said bothered me.” If you decide to say this, however, be ready to back up why you like it, as the other person may want to get into a debate with you. There are some people who really enjoy the thrill of a debate or an argument. They might try to goad you into a debate because they think a sparring match is fun. If you don’t enjoy that sort of thing, then there’s no reason you have to engage. If you can ignore the insults, then do so, and go on with your business. If you feel the need to defend the show/film/character that you like, then let them know that you would rather they not say that stuff around you. Clearly stating what you want often can be effective in defusing a situation. Just know that you may not be able to change the other person’s opinion, and know that you might have to be OK with that.

If you’re planning not to say anything, and you just want to know how to keep your cool, take deep breaths, and remind yourself that the person did not mean to insult you. Keeping your cool means keeping your body calm. To do so, take deep breaths, letting your abdomen fully expand and contract. It may help to place a hand on your belly and to let the belly expand when you inhale and then contract when you exhale. Slow your breathing down, and concentrate on exhaling fully and completely. When you focus on a long exhale, your body has no choice but to take a deep inhale. When you slow your breathing down, that sends a signal to your nervous system that it is OK for your body to relax. Focusing all of your attention on your breathing, or on your body in general, is helpful. If you notice any muscles that are tight or contracted, do your best to relax them. You might purposefully raise your shoulders and then drop them, or rub your jaw muscles to relax them. Remind yourself that you are OK and you are safe.

What should you do if a co-worker teases you because you like something that person doesn’t?

If a coworker teases you, and they know that you like the thing they’re teasing you about, then they probably want to engage with you for one reason or another. They’re likely hoping for some sort of reaction from you. Perhaps they think it is funny when you get riled up, and they want to see you come alive to defend the thing you love. Perhaps they enjoy a debate or an argument and they’re hoping you’ll engage in one with them. It might also make them feel powerful to put someone else down. Remember that whatever the other person is trying to do, and whatever response they’re wanting from you, they’re doing so because of something that is going on with them.

If you want to engage with them and defend the thing that you like, then defend away. If you are not up for engaging with them right then, let them know that: “I don’t feel like getting into it today.” You could also do your best to ignore them. If they keep pressing, you could ask them, “What are you wanting from me?” Always do your best to stay calm and to not escalate the situation. An escalation is likely what they’re looking for. If you don’t want to give one to them, then do your best to calm yourself down.

What if this is coming from someone with authority over you, i.e. a supervisor or boss?

If the insults are coming from a supervisor or boss, think about what this person wants from you. A supervisor or boss who teases you is unfairly taking advantage of the powerful position they have over you. They may be trying to reinforce their authority, likely to manage their own insecurities. They might also tease you because they think they are just being playful, and maybe they think you can take it. Whatever the reason, if you feel uncomfortable, it can be helpful to let them know and to ask them to stop. You could say, “I actually really like that show, and I don’t like it when you insult me about it.”

If you feel harassed by your boss, and you have asked him/her to stop, then you have the right to report your boss’s actions and to get Human Resources involved. You can report your boss’s actions even if you have not asked him/her to stop, but it can be helpful to first directly address the situation. Many workplaces have policies regarding how to address harassment at work. Find out what the procedures are at your workplace, follow them, and know that you are protected under the law when doing so.

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