It seems like every issue is polarizing these days, and tension can creep into even the most benign conversations. Navigating social situations is difficult enough as it is, and it’s even harder when controversies arise. Do you engage and risk escalating the conflict, or keep your mouth shut and let the other person walk all over you?
When someone is being rude to you, it’s natural to get defensive. Your immediate instinct is to be rude right back, but that tactic won’t get you far and you run the risk of coming off even worse than the person who “started it.” I know that’s not fair since technically they attacked you first, but life’s not fair and I don’t make the rules.
Instead of leaping in to defend yourself and making things worse when someone confronts you, first take a deep breath. Find your zen. Try to relax. And consider utilizing the following tactics instead.
Your flight instinct will likely be triggered when someone is being combative with you. If the confrontation is physical, of course, you should get out of there. But I’m talking purely about verbal altercations here. Instead of running from someone who is being rude, try to take control of the situation in a roundabout way.
Do not simply leap into the conversation only to be cut off by someone else because this will make you seem easy to push around and people will feel more comfortable ignoring what you have to say. When you do speak, do it with enough momentum and volume to make it all the way to the end of your sentence.
You’re probably not going to be able to get a monologue in, so it can be a short sentence – the point is just to finish your thought without being cut off. Finishing your entire thought encourages others to subconsciously respect you more because it shows a sense of confidence.
Address the Individual, Not the Group
When multiple people confront you at once, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. It’s scary when you’re outnumbered! Others also feel more comfortable attacking you when they have backup. Diffuse their group mentality by treating them all as individuals.
Don’t address them as “you guys.” Instead, refer to each person by their name and make eye contact when you do it. That way, you can address their individual points and it makes it harder for them to gang up on you. If you don’t know everyone’s name, that’s okay. Simply make solid eye contact (at least three seconds) and address them directly. Or ask them their name and immediately begin using it.
People love the sound of their own name, so addressing each person by their name will subconsciously make them feel warmer toward you even if you’re disagreeing with them. They’ll be more likely to listen and less likely to lash out.
We like people who are similar to us, so if you can, try to call out any commonalities you have with the person who is confronting you. Before you begin disagreeing with them, first mention something that the two of you have in common. For example, you could start by saying something like, “I know we’re both really passionate about this issue, and I respect your passion.”
Calling out these similarities helps to disarm this person and force them to see you as an equal. It also makes it clear that you’re arguing in good faith, which should always be the goal.
Reward Good Behavior
This works better if you’re in a group, but if someone is being truly hostile and you really can’t get a word in edgewise, don’t waste your breath. Instead, turn toward someone else in the group who’s being less rude and look at them instead. Remain completely silent until you get the chance to speak again. By keeping your mouth shut, you’re not adding any fuel to the fire and the person who is will eventually run out of gas.
When things get awkward, our instinct is to try and diffuse the situation as fast as possible by smiling. But you need to fight that urge. Instead, remain silent and keep your face neutral. This will make the other person feel uncomfortable and less sure about carrying on with their tangent because they’re not getting anything from you anymore.
Once a bully realizes they’re not going to get a rise out of you, they’ll stop. When they do stop, reward that behavior by finally speaking and addressing them in a graceful manner. Think of it in the same way that you would train a dog. Reward the behavior you want to see more of by smiling and engaging, then ignore them when they’re acting out or being rude. This will make them far more motivated to treat you with respect instead of hostility.
Call Them Out (Subtly)
This one can be a little tricky, but you could try to indirectly call out their bad behavior. The reason you need to be indirect about it is because if you straight-up tell them, “You’re being a jerk,” then they’re going to get even more defensive and angry.
However, you could turn to another person in the group and say something like, “Isn’t it frustrating trying to have a civil debate with someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise?” The other person is going to know you’re talking about them and immediately feel chastised, but they will not feel as defensive as they would have if you’d addressed them directly.
No matter what this person says or how many times they try to rile you up with cheap words and low blows, remain calm. If you can, try to have a sense of humor about it and crack a joke. Don’t do this while the person is attacking you (no rewarding bad behavior, remember?), but when you finally do get the chance to speak, keep your cool and make it count.
This can be hard to do if someone is engaging in ad hominem attacks. It feels very personal, but it’s really not because, more than likely, this person doesn’t really know you that well anyway. Let go of your ego, and don’t waste time defending yourself.
You’ll actually look better if you don’t defend yourself than if you do because it makes you seem confident. Confident people aren’t affected by the opinions of those they don’t respect. Instead of defending yourself, rise above and remain focused on addressing the ideas in a civil manner. If this person continues to be rude to you despite you remaining calm and kind, then they are the ones who will end up looking bad – not you. You are calm. You are zen. You are a winner.
Hopefully, these tips will help you out the next time you’re in a tense situation. If your mind completely blanks and you can’t remember anything, first try to stay calm and quiet. Take your time and think before you speak instead of jumping in and engaging with the same tactics as the person you’re arguing with.
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