There are times when we find ourselves in the midst of an encounter with someone where we are suddenly surprised at the overreaction or defensiveness of the person we are speaking with. Often, we have no idea where this other person’s emotions are coming from. During these moments, we often have three choices. I will call them Door #1, Door #2 and Door #3 after the famous TV show “The Price is Right”.
If we select Door #1, we choose to withdraw, avoid or accommodate. Often more out of fear or shock because of the unexpected response of the other person, we let the other person have their way as we try to regain our composure. We make no effort to question the other person or to push back by articulating our different perspective. Our withdrawal can result in the other person feeling he or she has effectively taken control of the conversation and that he or she has “won” and that we have “lost”. When we walk through Door #1, we often feel temporary relief, only to feel deflated later and questioning why we folded so quickly and didn’t say the things we wanted to say or ask the questions we wanted to ask.
If we select Door #2, another choice available to each of us when confronted with someone who is pushing our buttons, we “meet force with force”. This often escalates the situation while the other person digs in his or her heels even more deeply, and we end up contributing our part to creating an impasse that can be difficult to break through in the short term. It is very easy to go through Door #2, as most of us resent being mistreated or disrespected by others. Just think about the last time someone cut you off on the road. The reality though is that whenever we meet force with force we limit our options when it comes to resolving a disagreement.
A third choice, available to each of us, is to select Door #3. To walk through this door, we must stay present and refuse to allow the emotionality of the moment to dictate our response. Maintaining presence is easier said than done. As mentioned above, many of us let the adrenaline get the best of us and cause us to go down another path that later we may regret or resent.
One strategy for staying present, even when someone else blows up or surprises us with their emotional reaction, is to take a couple of deep breaths to settle our physiology. A second strategy, once we’ve settled by being more aware of our breathing, is to ask a good question that suggests that while we understand the other person’s frustration or desire to pursue their own solution, we have an interest in continuing the conversation before deciding on a direction. This takes real determination and a genuine interest in finding the best solution to a difficult situation. It also requires that we avoid being manipulative or deceitful in our questioning. For example, we might say: “I can see you have some definite ideas about how we should go about solving this. What would happen if we implemented this approach and the following situation developed?”
The interesting thing about people who tend to overreact or attempt to control the conversation and push their own agenda forward is that they are often more receptive than we anticipate to receiving pushback. We naturally conclude that these individuals will be the least interested in what we have to say and that it is a losing battle to try and “stay in the game” with them. My experience is just the opposite. However, it often takes someone who can remain strong and composed to successfully push back on someone else. In the end, this pushback is often respected by others and can be just the approach to get this other person’s attention in a meaningful way.
Some people believe that they can always get their way by raising their voice or becoming overly assertive. Rewarding their behavior by going through either Door #1 (withdrawal) or Door #2 (meeting force with force) often feeds and reinforces this strategy by some to beat us down and marginalize our individual contribution. Think about a recent situation where you were faced with choosing which door to go through. What will you do in the next 90 days to select Door #3 when you find yourself in these trying predicaments? Remember to breathe and remain confident that your unique perspectives are worthy to be considered by others, even when it appears the other person is not interested in what you think.