top of page
  • Writer's pictureSamantha McMullen

The ultimate come back

Does anyone else relate to Meg Ryan's charector in You've Got Mail?


...Okay, since most of us are not likely small book store owners who use dial up internet, maybe I should get more specific:

Does anyone else relate to the scene where Meg Ryan's charector Kathleen Kelly, struggles with what she "should have said, (for example) to a bottom dweller, that recently belittled my existance?"

She tosses and turns all night, wondering what she should have said in response to the rude comments made by Tom Hank's charector Joe Fox. Unless we are one of the Joe Foxes of the world, we likely have experienced an interaction that was so uncomfortable, so confusing, and so shocking, it left us either too overwhelmed to respond, or maybe saying something hurtful back in the heat of the moment (which Kathleen later does in the film) that then leads us (and her) to feel regret.

Some example interactions might be:

  • a racist, sexist, homophobic or body shaming comment

  • mocking or bullying of any kind

  • attempts to gas light

  • unasked for feedback aka judgements

I have previously attemped to deal with these situations in both ways outlined above, either by biting my tongue or biting back- but neither left me feeling good. Because neither of these options felt aligned with my personal values. When we do or say something that is not aligned with our values, it doesn't sit right in our nervous systems, and can show up as ruminating, shame, guilt and regret. Not fun right?

Instead, I try to offer responding with a clarifying question, such as the below:

  • What do you mean by that?

  • What makes you say that?

  • Where is that coming from?

  • What is your intention in saying that?

and lastly

  • So what?*

In my experience, this creates an automatic pause in the interaction, giving both parties a chance to breathe, and flips the table, giveing the other person a choice of how to proceed, versus all the pressure being on you. They can choose to either justify what they just said, or identify their intention and perhaps rethink how they could say it differently to better get their point across.

This often yeilds a pleathura of information, proving perhaps some context, or an intention that can then inform how you want to engage, giving you choice in how to proceed.

Hopefully, this space will leave you feeling like you were able to respond versus react, and that no matter what the outcome of the conversation, you can atleast feel self respect and sleep soundly knowing you acted by your values.


At a family event, as you make your way around the buffet, someone says, "Are you sure you want to eat that?"

Tongs in hand, you immedietly feel judged, and shame rises in heat in your cheecks. Instead of throwing the food at them, you ask: "What is your intention in saying that?"

Perhaps they take a moment and then say, "I know you have been trying to loose weight and I was trying to help, that food is very fattening."

Okay, you know thier intention now, but inentions do not justify harm.

You respond, "Thank you for clarifying. While I am working on creating healthy habits I do not apreciate comments about my eating choices." You place the deliciously nutritious food on your plate, and move down the line. You don't need to justify your eating choices or feel responsible to educate them on how harmful diet culture is. You can say your peace, and eat in peace to.

How would you feel after this interaction?

Another way to try this come back on for size, is to think of a situation that happened recently and play this hypothetical game using the most apllicable "come back" from the list above.

If it feels helpful, try them out the next time you are in a similiar situation.

I would like to think that even Joe Fox might be stumped by these humbly titled, "ultimate comebacks," although I feel like he might have an applical "God Father" quote ready in return. ;)

*keep an eye out for the next blog post that goes deeper into the applications and the power of "So what?"The ultimate, ultimate comeback.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to practice assertive communication, read more about the skills I offer here, and please feel free to contact me through my website, email me at or call me at 818-465-8516.

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page