by Bea Larsen


Larsen is a Senior Mediator at the Center for the Resolution of Disputes. She is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility.

He said: so, I hear you got the promotion. Another woman sleeps her way to the top.

Silent at first, unnerved by the sarcastic taunt, she took a moment to consider her response and then said: you think that’s what folks in the office believe? Can you help me track that rumor down?

Surprising. Not even a hint of a defensive reaction. That’s because she was sponging.

It’s a way of absorbing a perceived jab and turning the conversation in a positive direction instead of allowing it to spiral into negativity.

Caustic remarks raise the temperature of any discussion and once a defensive response is made, antagonism escalates and little gets accomplished. Conflict needs to be diffused, not escalated.

To experiment with this approach, when confronted with a hostile remark or an insult, even veiled sarcasm, avoid an immediate response. Instead, consciously absorb the message of the speaker, soak it up like a sponge. Pause, and take a moment to frame your response from that vantage point, and watch the wind empty from your rival’s sails. An example: 

Neighbor: I suppose your bleeding heart wants to double the amount of money we taxpayers spend on food stamps?

Sponging response: I also struggle with the government encouraging dependency, yet worry about the number of children living in poverty. Any ideas about what we should be doing about that?

Developing the sponging skill takes time and thoughtfulness. The next time, if the goal is to move the conversation forward, visualize a sponge.

One thought on “sponging”

  1. Ms. Larsen,
    Oh, what a great, and challenging topic. My colleagues and I, especially my fellow Liberal Arts colleagues, discuss this often. I have become fairly good at sponging and for the most part just automatically do it. I really like to get information before I respond, However, did you ever notice, there is always one person who can challenge every inch of one’s being. My friends laugh and tell me I got the “hard” one, and they don’t know how I (deal) with it, however, they get perverse enjoyment in watching. I have come to believe that person was sent to me to learn from. He represents a whole lot of other people who think along the lines of two of your examples 1) sleeping to the top and 2) those entitled people.
    Perhaps sometime, if I am fortunate, or if you would permit me to just send you an email, I will share some of ways I have put the sponging tactics to practice on him. It works and it can really be rewarding to watch the response.
    Although I don’t respond to all of your Friday messages – don’t want to be a pest – I look forward to each of them, always take away great information, and think of Beyond Civility as one of the blessings that came my way.
    Thank you, Leigh Allen

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