Sometimes situations can be read in two different ways. Was that person being rude, or were they just clueless? Were they truly sensitive, or being an asshat? Were they genuinely unaware of the ramifications of what they were saying, or were they just hijacking terms of concern and caring in order to further their own agenda?
For me, there’s usually a pretty simple way to determine this – but it requires cutting through the societal norm of “politeness” in order to do so.
It’s by calling out the behavior in question.
I mentioned a version of this back in 2013 when working with people with Asperger’s. The short form goes like this:
When someone is acting in a way that could be seen as rude, ask them if they meant to be rude.
The non-neurotypical person (or the neurotypical person, for that matter) will get upset that they upset you and apologize. They will be unaware of the way their words were perceived.
The same thing applies in other social situations as well. Simply state how you perceived the statement or action that just happened, and ask the person if that’s what they meant to do.
Their reaction – and their following action – will tell you everything.
Because it’s not just the initial reaction (or denial) that indicates where their head is at, but how they act from then on.
And that gives you the information to know where they’re really coming from.
Without using this technique you run the risk of emotional self-diagnosis and deciding that someone is malevolent when they’re just stumbling while learning to walk. Or – and arguably worse – you leave yourself vulnerable to those who would otherwise do you harm.