The Smartest Way to Diffuse Confrontation Without Completely Caving
Recently, I turned to my wise uncle (who's really more of my BFF-slash-mentor) to vent some frustration after an avoidable argument with a friend. "One of the best ways to deal with an angry person," he said, "is to ask, 'What do you need from me?'" He went on to explain that the question prompts the other person to search their feelings while acknowledging that you're willing to meet them halfway. So smart, right? And according to a psychologist, the technique is totally legit.
"The most important thing to remember in this situation is not to act impulsively," says Erika Groban, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Rye, NY. "Once you're able to deescalate the emotional intensity of the situation, you'll be able to address the content of what is being discussed." If you're thinking this advice is easier said than done (fair), Dr. Groban recommends keeping a script at the ready:
1. "I’m feeling a little bit uncomfortable about how you’re speaking to me right now. I understand you’re angry/hurt/sad but I think it would be more productive if we come back to the issue later, once we’ve both had some time to calm down.”
2. "It's difficult for me to talk about the issue at hand when you’re speaking to me in this aggressive/demeaning way. I’m happy to keep discussing the issue if you’re able to speak to me with more respect. If not, I think we need to take a break from this conversation.”
According to Dr. Groban, such phrases also establish a needed boundary between you and your confronter, making it clear that you're willing to work it out while still advocating for yourself. "These comments will allow you to model the way you want to be treated and gives the other person a chance to collect himself and rethink the way he wants to conduct himself in the conversation," she elaborates.
Just remember, though, you also have the option to GTFO of the conversation in a purposeful way. "There are times when the confronter may refuse to stop engaging in the conversation. In this situation, the best thing you can do is clearly state that you will be leaving the conversation and will be available to talk once the person has calmed down," says Dr. Groban. After all, if finding middle ground involves walking over hot coals or devaluing your self-worth, it's probably best to just carry on with the rest of your life and, as my uncle would say, set yourself free.
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