In my life I come across people that do things that are wrong (and most of the times illegal) like littering, hitting animals, parking on the pavement without leaving an inch for pedestrians to pass.

The problem is that when I try to tell them that what they did was wrong, most of the time they become really aggressive and usually yell at me or threaten me. I am against violence and I try not to escalate things but in the end I get a feeling that they 'won' and that they didn't get their lesson.

My question is, how to deal with people like this?

I live in Eastern Europe.

  • 1
    I am not sure the way to do so that someone will take it well. I have acted like someone accidentally dropped it & handed it back to them.
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 9:13
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    I also live in E. Europe. There is nothing you can do, but be very nice. Kicking a dog, or littering aren't even considered socially unacceptable here. Plus, everyone is stressed around here and they expect and are ready for confrontation. Treating them nice and finding positive things to say work so much better than confronting them.
    – user2107
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 11:58
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    After reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" it might be easier to construct an answer. My approach might be: lead them to come to the conclusion they could have acted better on their own, by asking gentle nudging questions, and allow them to save face when all is said and done. What I would actually do is ignore it provided no one is in immediate danger. The situations suggested could make the lecturer seem like a pompous, self-righteous blowhard, and I am sure you don't mean for that. Have you thought about whether you are choosing the appropriate battles to fight? Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 14:37
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    What is your goal here? The short answer for "make them do the right thing" will obviously is "you can't".
    – Vylix
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 16:04
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    You will not find out whether they got the lesson! It's only natural to not openly admit that the person learned something in a confronting situation. Additionally, chances are that the learning takes place much later, when reflecting the situation in a relaxed mood. Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 3:03

5 Answers 5


I highlighted the most important parts put took the liberty to add more precision in case you are interested in the "hidden" mechanics.

Littering, parking on pavement and hitting dogs are very different kind of actions. The examples you brought up are quite broad and don't have a lot to do with each other and I believe that the most significant pattern we can draw between them is :

You are talking about people that put their impulses/short-term convenience before the law or even manners.

That's basically the common trait between the events you describe: You witness people who do what suits them and don't care about the others regarding the issue. Then, you come, saying them, who are grown-ups, that their conduct is wrong. I don't know how you use to present it, what kind of words and tone you use, but even polite notifications make such people in such a situation to quickly lose their shit.

I'm not saying you are wrong to point it out to someone when they do things they shouldn't, but you shouldn't be surprised that they don't take it very well. Besides, being told what to do by a stranger is a pretty effective way of losing one's nerve.

Do you actually believe that people who litter or park like assholes don't know it's wrong? Do you believe that you are teaching them something they didn't know and making them a favor? They already know it and yet they still did it. Telling them their wrongs is not going to lead to a better situation. Besides, even though I'm not building conclusions regarding your reasons, a lot of people who do that kind of comments are self-righteous pains in the ass. They are people who shout at you in public to point out how their values or whatever are better than yours. May it be true, it's not a reason to shout it at people and expect somehow a satisfying result. It's arrogant, rude and basically feels like : "I have to respect these restraining rules so I'm pissed at you not doing it and will do my best to let everyone know as much I'm better than you for doing it, because it makes me sick that some can not follow these rules and get as much respect as I do.

Not trying to infer stuff about you, I don't know you. Just try to get how people react, put yourself in their shoes. Get along with the fact that you cannot change people you cross on the street.

As a side note, I don't know if it has to do with your mindset or simply your way of writing your question but when I read "I still feel though that he didn't get a lesson." it tastes weird. Don't try to teach lessons to people who do bad things, all you will accomplish is pissing them off. You might even find troubles with either these people or the police enforcement.

TLDR : That's where I answer the main question.

To be honest, I don't see much that you can do about that, except maybe pointing it out while remaining as humble as possible. Let me explain myself :

Regardless of the tone, suddenly speaking to a stranger qualifying their conduct and stating what they should or shouldn't do is confrontational, whether you intend it or not, and surely you intend it, their is nothing to be afraid of with that word. Sure being aggressive and/or assertive is also going to add more weigh to it.

How people feel when treated that way, regardless of whether they feel in ther right or not, is humiliation. That's it. Another grown-up is treating them the way grown-ups treat children : by qualifying their conduct and tell them what they should change regarding it. You are ignoring their adult status, reaping them of it. This may not be your goal, but that doesn't make it less real.

Your main question was How to deal with that kind of person ?. The main issue being that your current way of dealing with it is met with aggressivity, we should try to solve that particular issue, so lets reword it to How can I point out one's uncivil conduct without that person to feel lectures, therefore reacting violently ?

I invite you to confirm if whether or not that question is a good match with your current concern.

I can only advise you some elements to focus on to be certain that your reaction is as likely as it can be to have the desired effect (and I wanted to make a list somewhere in that answer, also).

  • Play the thing in your head beforehand, plan what you will say in advance. Simulation allow us to test stuff without having to deal with the costs and consequences of practically making these tests. That's how we refined our understanding of nuclear explosion without blasting too much landscape. Nuclear explosions and confrontations are alike : knowing beforehand that an attempt will be a disaster can do a great deal to you regarding diplomacy.

  • Stay calm. We tend to mirror the mind states of those around us, especially when they confront us. That's an evolutionary treat that prevents us to be caught off guard if violence steps are crossed. It's also what's responsible for escalation. It can happen that the opposing side gets a step or two higher than us because we stressed them. Remaining calm instead of doing the same breaks the escalation.

  • Conflict usually allows only two outputs : fight or flight. Escalation usually happens when the fight output is preferred at any iteration of the cycle, whether it's because of pride or because flight is considered impossible. In that case, the escalation can be prevented by incuding a third output that acts as a safety valve, it's usually an alternative flight that doesn't entail pride.

    By making such a thing part of your step forward, you make it possible for the other person(s) to be able to walk away from the conflict or ignore it without feeling that they submit to you. That's why societies like Canada or the UK (among many others) are so obsessive about politeness when interacting with (near) strangers. politeness makes the ground neutral by avoiding personal influence. By make it look like it's no big deal, the situation can stay peaceful.

    So the two elements there are introducing yourself before coming to the real matter - not by name, just some neutral formal thing to set the encounter before you introduce the hot stuff - and keeping it neutral. That kind of speech is how grown-ups are supposed to talk and can let a lot of sensitive issues being discussed without most people being stressed out and it can be used in a great variety of interpersonal issues.

  • Then say it only if it feels right to you. If

A typical speech I would use would be something along these lines :

Hi Sir ! Please excuse me, I know you are busy, but I couldn't help but notice that you parked on a reserved spot. Maybe you didn't notice or are in a hurry, but since it was one of the last available and that it add more pain and bother on a disabled person who would come in the meantime, would you please reconsider your choice to park here ?

That sure can be refined, but the key points are there :

  • Introducing the interaction. The words by which you get the person's attention defines how that person will react. If they are violent, it will set the field as a confrontation. If it's polite, you will seem less aggressive and the person won't feel threatened. It's damn important as otherwise, whatever you say after will be heard with angry ears. Bonus point for the respect mark, if you give him some Sir, you are showing respect. excuse me greases the situation : you are letting yourself appearing vulnerable by acting humbly. It can be wasted if the following words are disrespectful - "Excuse me, but you are parked like a d**head*", bad move - but otherwise it gives the other person the initiative so they can stay calm for the moment. Also, by acknowledging that the person might be busy, you are showing that you also value that person's time, which is also important. It implies that you wouldn't intervene if it wasn't important and that you consider the other person as a human being with their own agenda and stuff to do.
  • Attesting the issue. You go one step further by throwing a neutral assertion, in that case a quick and objective description of what you saw. You don't put blames, don't make conclusions, just attest. That kind of statement is a good way to continue the introduction of the interaction as it is neutral and still allows you to explain the situation. Make it objective and straight to the point, don't point fingers, don't put blame, just describe. You have no audience to convince you are right, just another person to convince that they did the wrong thing, no need to antagonize them.
  • Since you are still implying that the person behaved wrongly, you can come up with possible justifications for their actions that would be valid, as it serves a double purpose. First, you prevent escalation by leaving them a safe exit : they can always answer you "yes, in fact I didn't notice" or "Indeed, I'm in a hurry and won't have for more than five minutes" if they don't want to escalate, that's the safety valve. Second, by forcing yourself to wonder for what valid reasons they might have behaved that way, you force yourself to see them as the human beings with their own life which makes your tone more credible and you calm yourself in the event that it made you mad by realizing that maybe they aren't that bad or that wrong - even if maybe/surely they are.
  • Give them a plain and simple reason for them to do otherwise that has nothing to do with you. People won't have the impression of submitting to your biding if you ask them to do it for somebody else, like a potential disabled person.
  • Don't ask them to do X. Ask them to reconsider doing it after you exposed them what they did and the reason why it's your opinion that they should have done something else. Children are told to do things. Adults share opinions and let each other do their own choices based on them. By simply asking people to reconsider their course of actions after having - nicely - listen to your opinion, you are also valuing their thinking process and respecting their ability and right to act accordingly.

I hope it can help you with your issue. I know that it takes some practice to apply these guidelines in all situations and I admit that I do myself get confrontational in the heat of the moment only to regret it afterwards, but maybe it can help to know the underlying gears. If I had only one advice, it would be to always keep in mind that other people are... well... other people... They have their own mind, opinions, background and impulses, just like you and me. Sometimes, all it takes is one to find back their calm to de-escalate something, and that takes more courage than it should.

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    Completely changed my question. I thing the example with the dog was misleading. My question was generally about people who do things that are wrong and react aggressively when told that it was wrong.
    – papakias
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 9:01
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    @papakias Don't get me wrong, I understand your point. In fact I agree with it. My point is that that kind of reaction isn't quite surprising, it's even fairly predictable. I'll edit to make it more clear.
    – Sarkouille
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 9:26
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    +1 for the first part, of course they know and don't give a damn. However I am seriously skeptic about trying even to talk to them. I think that whatever sentence you use they won't give a damn, they just may not get aggressive with you. Seems like just a way to be self righteous with no concrete result and no agressivity from those concernerd.
    – Walfrat
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 14:10
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    @Walfrat Agreed, but the OP asked how to do it, not if that was likely to bring results.
    – Sarkouille
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 14:43
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    @VGR For the record, if I was convinced by the utterly pointlessness of the attempt, I wouldn't have bothered writing an answer and would have commented "Quit it, it's a lost cause" instead. The fact is that the attempt is bound to be frequently met with bad results whether because they know but don't care enough to listen or because they don't like receiving advice from strangers. I wrote it thinking about the remaining people with which diplomacy could succeed.
    – Sarkouille
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 14:52

If it is something that does not harm you and is not against the law, try to ignore it. I know that this is not easy sometimes, but my own experience (I live in Western Europe) is that you cannot argue with these people. People who throw their litter on the lawn, hit their dog and park their car where it must not be parked are mostly aggressive people who simply do not care about others. If you try to tell them that they have done something wrong, their response will be aggressive. You cannot change them, and it is not your responsibility to discipline others. You will only put yourself into danger.

But: If it is something that does harm you and is against the law, do not try to convince the wrongdoers. Do not even talk to them. Just call the police or the responsible authority. They know how to deal with people like that, and they have much more possibilities than you.

A friend of mine, who sits in a wheelchair, once had a problem. She has to use a zebra crossing every morning to get to the tram station and travel to work. The sidewalk is lowered there and it is easy for her to cross the street.

And then there were two cars parking on the sidewalk just at the zebra crossing, where they were not allowed to. She she could not cross the street there. Next morning, same problem. She could not use the zebra crossing because of the two cars parking where they were not allowed to.

She waited for a whole week. The cars were there every morning. She did not know where they belonged. She thought of putting little letters under the windshield wipers, but it were not always the same cars.

After a week, she called the public order office. On the very next morning, the cars had disappeared, and some days later, a huge "No Parking!" sign had been drawn on the pavement.

This happened about three years ago, and since then, the problem has not occurred again.


One problem about approaching people and telling them that they are wrong is that our own assessment sometimes makes us see a clear-cut situation where moral ambiguity exists, and right and wrong are not as simple as we believe. The initial version of your question has an example of that, a situation where a dog is harshly punished after trying to bite a human.

The second problem is that it might antagonize them, as you did experience. If you then push it further you are trying to escalate the conflict into violence, which is unwise.

If they really are a-holes who will lash out at anyone who points out their errors, the only way to make them behave instead of lashing out is by having authority. You can have authority based on wearing a uniform, on being bigger and stronger, on having the correct body language, choosing the right tone of voice, etc - keep in mind none of these is sufficient on its own, not even (or especially not) the uniform. Keep your eyes open and you will notice some people who command respect from strangers and others who don't - it's all about body image, body language, the tone of voice, and knowing when not to get involved in a losing battle. Learning how to carry authority when talking to strangers is tricky, but there are courses - some self-defense classes focus on this.

Another important point is to give them an easy way out. Take littering in a park for example:

  • If you command them to pick up their litter, to them, giving in means they follow your commands. It's also an implicit acknowledgement that they intentionally left it there, so if they already planned to pick up their litter you may actually end up making them not pick it up.
  • If you remind them (without snark) they accidentally dropped some litter, they do have the option of picking it up without being "humiliated".

Is the second option likely to succeed? Of course not. But it isn't less likely to succeed than the first one.

  • Good answer although i disagree that I was incorrect in my initial question. The guy got off his bike AFTER the incident happened and slowly went and kicked hard the dog although it had stopped chasing him. This kind of revenge is unacceptable. He wasn't try to protect himself.
    – papakias
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 10:12
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    @papakias After rereading I see that the initial paragraph can be read as an accusation, edited to strike a more neutral tone. Kicking a dog after the dog tried to bite someone is not necessarily wrong move, as dogs who are allowed to bite people can scar children for life. So let's just say the issue does not have a clear moral high ground.
    – Peter
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 10:46
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    @papakias Now the dog was chasing the guy too? That's not helping your story...
    – Xen2050
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 13:29
  • @Peter It's an act of revenge and it it unacceptable and pointless. The dog was just sitting.
    – papakias
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 16:37
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    @papakias Since you insist on discussing: It's also an act that punishes wrongdoing, teaches not to repeat the crime, and brings justice. Exactly the things we have in mind when we decide to approach people who are littering, perform asshole parking, or kick animals. It's possible that your depiction of events didn't manage to accurately convey the event, in which case you can take the reaction of the answerers as an example of people jumping to bad conclusions about right and wrong instead.
    – Peter
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 16:42

Very carefully and very politely.

  • If the person wasn't aware they did something wrong, then you appearing helpful and polite might help them learn, and should help keep them from becoming aggressive and yelling. You might be mistaken about their behaviour being "wrong" too.
  • If they know what they're doing is wrong then clearly they don't care that you saw them, and anything beyond a sentence probably won't change their mind.
  • If they do become aggressive and start yelling at you, nothing good will come from staying and trying to convince them how they're wrong. They're likely to become more aggressive, and it won't be fun to tell people you got hurt or arrested while arguing with some criminal buffoon over parking or littering or wild dogs. So:
    • Leave, maybe while getting your camera out, but leave.

[The Q was edited after my original answer, but it started about a guy almost getting attacked by a dog and then kicking the dog. I'll leave my original answer below.]

If these are really crimes, you can take a photo or video and call the police. If you're on vacation in a foreign land the local police will definitely know if it's serious and what to do about it. Or inform the employees of the bar & see what they say.

Your behaviour of yelling at random strangers, who apparently aren't afraid of crime, probably isn't very safe, I don't recommend it. If you're not more careful [you said "I really didn't want to use any violence (although I really wanted to)"] then eventually you'll yell at some criminal who's looking for a fight too.

Sounds like the guy on the bike almost got attacked by a wild dog (you didn't say it was tied to anything, and its owner didn't do anything), so how do you know you weren't yelling at the victim?

You were on vacation, maybe wild dogs & dog attacks are a serious problem there. Anywhere in the world dog bites can be serious, infections are very common and dogs can maim or kill people. In America and Europe, the owner of a dog who bites someone would get in trouble and could be fined or worse (if there even is an owner). Facing a vicious dog trying to bite you is a time to do anything to protect yourself. If it was a tiny "yappy" toy dog or a Chihuahua that's a little different, but you don't say if it was a Doberman either.

Looking shocked and gasping or saying "oh my!" while taking a picture/video would send the message to any civilized person that their behaviour was not good. If they ignore it, and you have to start shouting at them to "teach them a lesson", then they're probably uncivilized, possibly criminals, and will keep shouting back at you or worse (much worse). Eventually one will teach you the lesson that yelling at criminals isn't a good idea.

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    Completely changed my question. I thing the example with the dog was misleading. My question was generally about people who do things that are wrong and react aggressively when told that it was wrong.
    – papakias
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 9:01
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    it won't work, because people who do such things don't do them because they don't realize they are wrong. They do it as a power play. To be able to feel (or to signal to others) that they are powerful enough to be able to get away with it.
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 13:14
  • @vsz Are you agreeing with the premise that trying to change a willing criminal's behaviour with a few words won't work? That's a point I tried to make too, but the question says "when you tell them that they did something wrong" kind of sets the stage
    – Xen2050
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 13:27
  • @Xen2050 there's a whole profession that tries to change a willing criminal's behaviour with a few words. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_negotiation
    – papakias
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 17:27
  • @papakias Those people work with a SWAT team, precisely because criminals are dangerous. If you don't have such a team you should think twice before attempting.
    – Xen2050
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 15:26

Used to live opposite a nice green. Watched a group of late teens eating chips, saw one lad throw paper on ground. Walked across and picked it up, saying nothing. He shouted out I didn't drop that, to which I said he was a lying ****. Asked me to repeat, which I did clearly, looking him in the eye. He was getting up to hit me, and I said: All I'm trying to do is keep you out of trouble. There are cameras all round here, filming things like this. He said I want to see the film, my reply was yes of course, after the appropriate authorities have.

They all then started picking up the stuff they'd dropped, amazingly. And were never seen again.

That seemed to work, no actual confrontation, but a firm few words - there were no cameras.

Don't think there's one cure for this, although I was prepared to follow dog-crappers round, pick up their pup's poop, and drop it in their own garden. Some have to learn the hard way.

  • Nice story but I guess this wouldn't work for the OP. OP is from Eastern Europe. The offences the OP describes are probably not illegal (or if they are, the authorities probably wouldn't give a damn about them). Hence, this would not intimidate the offenders.
    – Utku
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 17:22

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