When attacked, criticized, or contradicted, our internal wiring prepares us immediately to fight or flee. We want to defend ourselves: defend our position, explain why we’re right, and sometimes even strike back.
Unfortunately, that natural response often creates big problems. It is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Such defensive behaviors immediately:
- escalate the conflict
- increase the likelihood of the other person digging in their heels
- move both parties toward a competitive approach, inflexible positions, and angry emotions
None of those consequences promote a rational discussion of the topic at hand.
That is why you need to know and practice the single most important de-escalation tactic you’ll ever learn: do not state your own position until you can state the other person’s position to their satisfaction.
Completely counter-intuitive, I know! This response is not easy and takes practice of “the three Rs”:
Resist the temptation to defend yourself.
Reflect what the person says. Ask something like, “Tell me more. Help me understand how you see this.” Listen carefully to clarify the person’s meaning and pick up on underlying concerns. Re-state their position as accurately as you can.
Repeat this process until the other person feels fully and completely understood. Persist until they indicate, “Yes, you understand what I mean.”
Human behavior is never 100% predictable. However, getting a “yes” increases the likelihood of a better outcome. Fact is, when the other party says “yes” to you, they put themselves in the position of agreeing with you.
So, when you wait to get a “yes” before stating your own position, you creates a better chance that:
You will avoid flying off the handle and saying something you may later regret
The other party will feel understood and as a consequence, will start to be more open to hearing your perspective
The tone of the conversation will move toward conciliation, problem-solving, and even collaboration
Perhaps most importantly, this tactic places you firmly in control of yourself and in greater control of the outcome!
The more we practice something, the more ready our brain to respond accordingly when need arises. So my challenge to you for this week: watch for an opportunity to ask someone to tell you more and work towards getting your “Yes”. That makes good practice even in non-conflict situations!