You’ve been there – going through your day, keeping to yourself, when suddenly someone begins to push your buttons, argue, accuse or blame. Perhaps it’s simply their tone or body language that gives rise to this tension. But the result is the same, you’re being baited to argue back or defend yourself.
What can you do?
First – Slow Down. Most people are surprised to find themselves in an argument – and react accordingly by sparring back. This includes the instigator. S/he may be irritable and behaving inappropriately and yet unaware of how others are experiencing his/her behavior. Matching that unpleasant demeanor will only escalate matters causing greater conflict and tension.
Second – Gain Perspective. Whether on the spot or over the course of a few hours, try to consider where the other person is coming from. What is impacting them? Are they going through something (personally or otherwise) that’s causing inflated stress? Be sure to explore your own flaws, responsibilities, or role in the situation.
Third – Ask a Question. Rather than engaging in the battle that you believe is being waged, try to disarm the other person with an associated question. Keeping your own tone even, seek to find out if they are under extreme stress, if you have caused them difficulty, or simply if they want to talk about what is upsetting them. When your own tone is concerned and engaging, rather than provocative, you help them to identify the problem or to recognize their own behavior.
At this point, most would-be arguments have moved to a more honest and productive place. Your next step will depend on the content of the discussion that ensued. Perhaps you will offer to help, offer the change, or simply to give the other person space, time, or a needed hug.