How to Command Respect

queen victoria

I always wondered why teachers thought yelling was an effective way of communicating anything. Yes, clearly, the screaming is supposed to put the living fear of God into those fourth-grade souls, but…it doesn’t. It just looks lame.

Kids will sort of look around at their fellow offenders, who are invisibly shrugging their shoulders and signaling, “Sorry she’s freaking out at you, man. Stay chill.”

Yelling never makes you look good. It makes you look like you lost your marbles. Yet teachers, parents, and angry girlfriends continue to use their raised voices and bloodshot eyes like the ultimate weapon.

The same thing goes for online altercations, too. Someone comes barging into the comments section, blasting accusations and f-bombs, while everyone else wonders, “Should I tell her she’s making herself look like an idiot?”

Good-natured people with a sarcastic bent will often try to deescalate the situation with humor, ad hominems, or a professional, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Those are nice gestures, but they can end up being bullying themselves or just plain ineffective.

As someone prone to using emotion as power and coming across as nothing but lame, I was happy to discover the secret of winning arguments and commanding children’s respect: a look of withering boredom.

In Tools for Teaching, Fred Jones argues that the most effective, intimidating response to shenanigans is a look of withering boredom. Kids goofing off in the corner? Stop dead in your tracks, turn slowly, and look at them with withering boredom. “Aw, teacher, we weren’t doing anything.” Continue the look of withering boredom. “You don’t have to be so mean about it,” they mumble. Continue looking witheringly bored. It’s so uncomfortable that kids will feel compelled to sit back in their seats and start working.

And don’t say anything, Jones warns. If you talk back, you lose. Period.

Think about it. The DMV worker who says nothing and just looks at you, completely unfazed — is she not intimidating? Does she not make you want to disappear into the face of the earth? There’s no arguing with someone who’s just staring at you with a look of withering boredom. It’s the ultimate argument-winner.

Queen Victoria mastered this look — zero expression, with no hint of humor or anger:

As the story goes, someone at the royal dinner table told a slightly off-color joke. Since Queen Victoria had little patience for such humor, she looked impassively at the would-be-comedian as the table fell silent. Then she coldly stated to the offending guest the immortal words, “*We* are not amused.”

— Tools for Teaching

This is how classy women come out on top.

I think back to some obnoxious people I’ve encountered and how I handled those situations. I thought blazing forth my vast array of emotions would impress them, knock them out, put the fear of God and myself into them. I thought my tears were powerful, my anger potent, and my sarcastic responses zinging.

Nope. I just looked silly. I played right into their hands and felt victimized. It’s like all those awkward, ineffective moments in The Bachelorette when the good guys tried to gang up on Chad, and Chad just stared at them with utter boredom. Chad’s got this withering boredom look down.

You can’t beat a bully by being vulnerable.

I’ve been working on my look of withering boredom for those few people in my life who say not-so-cool things about me, others, and the things I’m passionate about. (I practice on Erich, but I end up bursting out laughing and ruining the argument before I can perfect it.) I’m better online — the “delete” button is my look of withering boredom. And of course, I’m trying this out in my kindergarten classroom this fall.

Do you naturally command respect? Tell us your secrets!

// How to sound smart and how to sound understanding

2 thoughts on “How to Command Respect

  1. Sonja Langford

    From a few years of working with kids in a public school and after school setting, I have come to discover that respect from kids comes from first giving respect. It’s a two way street. Treat them like they can understand “complicated” things, give them the opportunities to rise to your expectations, and then counsel them when they fail/struggle. When all else fails or time is short, though, the raised eyebrowed “withering look of boredom” always does the trick. ^_^


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