Today’s question comes to us from Awesome Dudette: “During the confrontation with authority figures in particular, WHAT DO YOU DO RIGHT IN THE MOMENT? e.g. When you are minding your own business and you attracted a bad manifestation like some security guard or power-loving authority harassing you and making you late or deciding to hold you for the maximum 4 hrs a police can hold you without reason – just to be a pain and watch you squirm.
They are just lording it over you, getting all pumped up (especially if male and you are female) doing pedantic things like whipping out a measuring tape and declaring your wheels are 1 millimeter over or some stupid thing- ANYTHING in other words to wreck your day and get some power over an innocent person (all made up examples).
Well before you release resistance so these things can’t happen again- IN THE MOMENT- what do you do to halt the bad situation getting out of hand?
How do you stop or reverse a bad manifestation?
I’ve written extensively about how to go back and release resistance so “negative” events don’t occur again. But what about when you’re right in the middle of a pile of crap and you’re having a total meltdown. What do you do then?
You cannot stop the momentum
First, the bad news: Once a particular manifestation has so much momentum going that it’s literally slapping you in the face, there’s not much you can do to stop it in that moment. You kind of just have to let it play out. It’s like if you’re on a rocket to the moon. Once that sucker has taken off, you’re not just going to be able to make it come to a screeching halt in midair. It’s going to travel some distance before it starts to slow down, and until it does, there’s nothing you can do.
You CAN stop your reaction, though
What you can do, however, is stop your reaction. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to go all Zen in a matter of seconds. But you can stop fighting back and pouring fuel on the fire. Let them have their tantrum or moment of power and know that it will pass soon.
How does that translate into the real world?
- If someone is yelling at you, stop yelling back. Respond calmly or not at all. Just shut up. It’s hard to keep screaming at someone who isn’t screaming back.
- If someone is holding you (like the police, for 4 hours), cooperate. Don’t assume that they’re going to lock you up for life on false charges. Just cooperate and assume that they will release you. Say things like “Ok. No problem.”
- Stop fighting. You don’t have to love them or even like them. Just stop fighting. Stop arguing. Stop justifying. The point is not to be right, it’s to let them run out of steam.
- Take a deep breath before you say anything.
- If you can’t figure out how to be cooperative, say as little as possible. Snide remarks will fan the flames and it’s your aim to diffuse the situation.
- Take moments of silence. If you can, get to the bathroom or some other private space for a few minutes. Get calm and decide not to do your best to not antagonize the situation further.
- If you can’t get away, do this in your own head. They may be yelling at you, but there’s no cosmic rule that says you have to listen to them do so. You can ignore the person and focus on whatever you want to in your own head. Try not to be obvious about the ignoring, though.
- Agree with the other person in some way. If they are ranting about some injustice, you can agree that they have a right to feel upset (you don’t have to agree that they have been slighted). Say things like “That IS upsetting. I can see where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t like that either. I can see how that would make you angry.” You are not necessarily agreeing with their reasons for being upset, but simply allowing them their point of view. This is much more powerful than you may realize. When someone feels heard, they often stop their aggressive behavior immediately.
- Even if they’re being ridiculous, like a security guard hassling you over one millimeter, play along. Admit to the error. You’ll be amazed at how their demeanor changes if you respect their authority.
- Do NOT disagree with them. Do not tell them they’re wrong (even if they totally are). From their point of view, they’re right.
- See them like you would a small child having a tantrum. Don’t take their behavior so personally. They may be taking it out on you, but generally speaking, their outburst will have little to do with you. When you can see how their reaction is separate from you, it will help you to calm down.
It’s not about being a doormat
The idea here is not to be a doormat and this is certainly not the strategy I would advise to resolve long term conflict. The main goal is to allow the momentum that’s built up to just run out, like waiting for the rocket ship to slow down so you can guide it and turn it around.
When you stop pushing against an aggressor, they will generally run out of steam quite quickly. When you keep defending, they will see it as offensive behavior and keep coming at you. Again, this isn’t meant to be a guide on how to resolve huge conflicts, but these tactics work well when someone just irrationally comes at you.
It’s not about being right
In order to do this successfully, you have to be willing to put your pride aside. When you see them as wrong and yourself as right and you keep arguing that point, you’ll just be handing them more ammunition. But if you can make dissolving the conflict more important than being right, if you can see that admitting to a small, insignificant slight or agreeing to their right to be bossy or upset, costs you nothing, you stand a very good chance of diffusing such volatile situations in a minutes and some cases, even seconds.
Some Personal Examples
I’ve been very fortunate to have many opportunities in my life to hone my tantrum diffusing skills. That’s a really fancy way of saying that I’ve been screamed at a lot. When I was a restaurant manager, I was often the target of customers who would get irrationally angry at the strangest things. I once had a man accuse me of trying to kill him, because he found a twisty tie (the kind that plastic bags are closed with) in his salad. A twisty tie that he had put there himself to try and scam the restaurant out of a free meal. While smiling and handing the man a free meal voucher was hard (I was following company policy. I wasn’t all that wise back then), I later realized that continuing to argue with the man would’ve been much worse.
When I was a casino dealer in Las Vegas, I would regularly be the recipient of drunken, angry rants. To be fair, I usually had just taken a bunch of money from them. [Interesting factoid: those who lost their sh*t had generally only lost a few hundred dollars. The gamblers who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars rarely said a peep. That’s a bit of insight into the differences in attitudes towards money…] If the tactics I described above work on drunk guys who just lost their rent money on one “sure” hand, they will work on just about anyone. What worked the best on drunken gamblers? Agreeing with them, looking compassionate and saying things like “Yeah. That sucks, man.”
“Why are you screaming at me?”
One of the most powerful techniques for diffusing an explosive situation that I’ve ever come across is one that I believe I read about in the Celestine Prophecy. I’ve tried this out with great success on several occasions. I haven’t had an opportunity to do so for years, but that’s only because I don’t really get yelled at anymore, something I’m totally ok with. Here it is:
Stay completely calm. Take a breath. Find a place of compassion by assuming that the other person has some valid reason to be upset about and that all of this is just a misunderstanding. Then, with a calm, caring (not bitchy!) voice, ask “Why are you screaming at me?” Do it like you’re really interested in the answer (hopefully, you are, but at least pretend). When done right, this question stops screamers in their tracks. Seriously, they generally stop, blink and stare. It’s like hitting the reset button.
It makes them take a look at themselves through your eyes and if your eyes have no malice in them, aren’t angry or bitchy or defensive, just interested and kind, they will not be able to continue the way they have. They will seem ridiculous to themselves. This is also greatly helped by the fact that they’re the only one screaming (which means you can’t also be screaming).
Once the tantrum has stopped, real conflict resolution can begin. In case you’d like read more on how to handle yourself in a confrontational situation, I’ve written the following blog posts about it:
Don’t forget the permanent fix
Of course, once the situation has calmed down, it’s time to figure out what really happened. The clue to this won’t be in the other person’s erratic behavior, but rather in how you experience it. What was your reaction? What exactly was it that that they said or did that triggered you? Why? I’ve written well over a hundred posts dealing with releasing resistance on a variety of topics. You’ll find them all in the Blog archives (you can search for specific topics).
The bottom line here is that you can’t “fix” a situation in the moment when there’s a lot of momentum behind it. Sometimes you just have to let it take its course and wait out the storm (I know! How many metaphors am I going to use in this post?!). Once it has, you can then start cleaning up.
How do you deal with conflict resolution? Have you had experiences like the ones described above? What did you do? What do you wish you’d known at the time?