Societal problem-solving strategies like that of team.earth, being showcased in The Unsolvable Project, generally recognize the emotional nature of the human being, but rely on a considerable component of rational thinking to let a community define where it is going — the Future Picture— what it needs to do to get there — the problem structuring — and how to involve the community to get it to its desired future.

However, we cannot always claim the privilege of enjoying rational, civil discourse in our ongoing interactions with other human beings. When people feel afraid, frustrated, or injured, it can provoke the heated activation of the fiery, emotional nature of the human being. And while a person occupies that highly emotional space — or while it occupies them — reasoning is often not successful, and in fact might worsen the situation.

Let’s talk about strategies in this very different, but very human situation, one which happens quite often, and which due to its nature, can often have impactful consequences.

While the approach for debates and conversations is to chip away at the opponent’s position until you convince the other, a heated or angry argument or confrontation has completely different characteristics. To be navigated successfully requires a completely different strategy.

What do you do when you find yourself in an angry argument with someone—when you are in a confrontation?

If you haven’t given it thought, it may be time to upgrade your confrontation strategy.

The main takeaways are:

  1. Don’t add fuel to the fire.
  2. Slow them down by asking questions they want to answer.
  3. Engage positively with them to help them exhaust their anger.

 

We, ourselves, should remain calm and rational. This may be difficult to do because unfiltered anger in the other person can spew accusatory or insulting statements which we will naturally want to fight back against to defend ourselves. Don’t. Realize that whatever the person says is a way to relieve themselves of the painful heat they are experiencing inside. They are throwing out hot words to relieve themselves of the heat. Let that process continue without letting those words raise your own heat.

Explore by listening. Keep them talking. Shift the attention somewhere else without reminding them of their anger. Let them drift to a different topic on their own, like the sea. An angry person wants to talk. Help them talk. Ask questions that make them think, not “yes or no” questions. For example, “What was that like?” Now they have to elaborate. To elaborate, they will have to think. And to think, they have to slow down. “Can you elaborate more?” “Can you explain what you mean?”

Help them get their frustrations out. “It’s interesting you think like that, that you see it like that.” Never say “don’t” or “can’t” in sentences you speak at this time.

Take what they’re throwing, whether it is accurate or not, whether it is right or not. Accept they are angry because you did something wrong, in their mind.

Don’t say: “You are angry” or “I can’t talk with you while you are angry.” They know they are angry, so you don’t need to remind them. It will just help them focus on getting angrier.

Don’t say, “I don’t know what to say.” This is equivalent, to an angry person, of saying, “I will not solve the problem” or “I’m not willing to admit there is an problem.” Instead, say, “I recognize there is an issue.” “I recognize there’s a problem. I would like to hear your solution.” Not recognizing the problem, to an angry person, is like not recognizing them. One aspect of anger as that it is a way of getting attention.

“Give me a list solutions to help me understand,” is a good thing to say, because it asks for something they want to talk about anyway. It prompts them to make a list, which slows them down, and exhibits an attitude of willingness to make changes.

Don’t say, “I didn’t know that.” The words “don’t” and “can’t” are negative words; don’t use them in a confrontation. Turn it into a positive: “Oh, I’ve learned something.” “You taught me something.” This has the added benefit of making the other person feel good; everyone likes to teach others. They feel they’re teaching you, which makes you happy and they feel happier. This calms the fire.

Don’t say: “I didn’t do anything wrong.” To an angry person, this means, “You should blame yourself.” Instead say, “I recognize that I’m wrong.” Admitting there is wrong somewhere validates the existence of the problem.

Do say, “Let’s solve it. What are your suggestions?” Suggestion generating activates the rational mind. Asking questions requires processing. It slows down the person.

Receive the balls passively which they are throwing. Let them come at you instead of throwing them back or hitting them back. By not hitting the balls back, you won’t stop them from throwing more balls. The angry person will stop once they run out of balls. Hitting them back or throwing the balls back gives them more balls to throw at you.

Don’t be silent. If you don’t respond, they will make up much worse responses in their mind for you, which will increase their anger. Instead, recognize and accept the problem, accept blame, and express willingness to communicate.

Navigating confrontation requires skill. It requires understanding the non-rational or emotional side of the human mind like a police officer who negotiates with a hostage-taker. If we as human beings had more skill, awareness, and self-control to successfully navigate confrontations, we would likely have less violence, less suffering, and less war.

Kevin