Let me tell you a story.
“Once upon a time you went to a bar. This was not an ordinary outing. No, this is the one time in 6 months you had to leave the kids at home, forget about work, and catch up with your long lost friends. This was a marked and circled on your calendar with a timer counting down on your computer kind of night.
You are having a great time and because someone else is the DD you are even starting to get a little drunk. Not sloppy drunk, not chocolate wasted, but a dignified loosen up enough to do some karaoke drunk. You have a fresh, full, delicious beer and better still your name was just called.
On your way to go butcher the newest song, just as you are about to step on the stage, some idiot bumps into you. Your entire beer is now down your shirt. Without thinking about it “What the F****.” comes out of your mouth.
Then instead of apologizing this dumb, dumb person stands up a little straighter and has the gall to call you a ____. Now what was a minor annoyance to your gleeful night has crossed the line. It is now an “I’m gonna hurt someone” kind of night.”
Now at this point in our story this can go a few ways.
- You can realize that they took your wtf comment as an assault and responded in kind. Then ignore them and go “crush” your song.
- You can meet his insult and get into what is guaranteed to at least be a shouting match.
- You can escalate the situation and hope they are the ones to back down before a punch gets thrown.
In my experience most people choose option 2 and ruin their night because of it. This is a travesty.
There are certainly times when you need to be able to meet aggression head on in order to assure your safety. But, most situations can be de-escalated very easily if one of the two people manage to keep their head. Conflict is inevitable, a fight is not.
The best way to de-escalate a situation is to do some things that many people find to be cowardly. These things include letting the other person feel like they have the power. Continuing to use an “indoor voice”. And walking away. Each of these, in fact, are harder than their alternatives.
Give Them the Power
When you let them feel like they have the power, people are easily convinced of things. If I am towering over you, I make you feel defensive and you become guarded. If I get on your level everything I say is taken in a more positive note because it does not feel like I am on the attack. I concede a position of power and gain a position of influence, more than a fair trade.
Holding my voice at an indoor level makes the other person question their actions in the moment. Or at least gives bystanders the impression that the other person is in the wrong. If your voice continues to stay at the same level, but with passion, the likelihood of you coming out the victor goes up again. To paraphrase an english teacher I know, don’t yell to make your point stronger, just improve your argument.
Finally walking away is one hell of a statement. You convey many things to your antagonist with this simple action when it is done correctly. It says “This argument is meaningless.” “I have more important things to do.” and “You are an idiot”. The correct way to walk away is to do it calmly, not in a huff. If you walk away in a huff, at a fast pace, I feel like I won. If you do it calmly, slowly, and with a smirk on your face. It makes me feel like you know something I don’t and I lost the argument.
The objective of these tactics is to take what looks like a fight, a night ruiner, and turn it into a short excerpt about a nuisance that tried and failed to end your fun. I have never found a time where I escalated the situation and was proud of what I did. De-escalation will save the one night you have to celebrate and every other night as well.