The Art Of Avoiding Conflict
One of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned in life is the art of avoiding conflict, or preventing conflict from escalating. I know it sounds easier said than done, but it's always worth a try.
Roman historian, essayist and politician Tacitus is famous for having coined the sentence "He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day." Some people have mistakenly taken this to mean that one should be a coward rather than a smart thinker. Either way, although this little gem of wisdom offers one way in which you can survive a conflict, it is not the one to which I refer in terms of avoiding conflict or an escalation into actual physical violence.
The tactic I refer to is very simple both in expression and practice. "Agree and disarm." It can be extremely effective in producing the desired results and even produce a very fruitful next step. Let me explain how that works with a recounting of some real life personal experiences.
About twenty years ago I was in car sales at a main dealership for Alfa Romeo. One day a man who I did not know from Adam walked into the showroom and made a beeline for my desk. From his physical demeanour and facial expression I could see, for whatever reason unbeknownst to me, he was not a happy bunny. As he approached my desk I gave him a friendly smile and warm hello, all to no avail.
"This dealership is shit and you are a fucking idiot." he spat at me as he placed the palms of his hands face down on my desk. He was red in the face and sweating profusely, signs that somebody was on the edge and about to explode.
At this point I could have met his aggression with with equal rage on my part, but from experience I knew that this would simply serve to escalate the aggression, possibly into physical violence. Instead, I very simply and calmly replied....
"On both counts, you're probably right sir."
Clearly spoiling for a fight, that was not a response he was expecting nor hoping for. But I had left him no reason to continue on his aggressive path.
"What? What did you say?" He screamed at me. I looked him in the eye and simply repeated what I had said. But I added, "Would you like to take a seat and explain to me nice and calm what exactly has forced you to form this opinion and let me see if I can help you?"
For a few seconds he hopped around on the spot not sure how to respond to the civility I had treated him to. Eventually he sat, took a few deep breaths and then explained the cause of his unhappiness to me.
I told him I was on his side and I would take personal ownership of the problem and seek to resolve it there and then. Within half an hour all was resolved and off he went, a spent force.
When he called me a fucking idiot I could so easily have jumped up and told him that he too was a fucking idiot and to get out before I punch him on the nose. But I knew that that would get neither of us anywhere.
Now this is just one example, believe me there many battles waged on the frontline of car sales. I'm quite proud of the fact that I never ever lost a single one. Upstairs for thinking, downstairs for dancing is what we used to say.
I recall another such conflict in a different field of sales in which I not only calmed the situation down, but I also managed to get a sale out of it! Now that is what you call a win-win situation.
Of course, one has to be realistic. Some people just will not listen to reason nor respond in kind to civility in the way that one would hope. My back stop is to quietly stand and confidently say nothing. Let the aggression burn itself out and hope a punch on the nose does not come your way, but just in case be prepared to defend yourself, if needs be, with a punch on the nose. Sometimes that is the only language bullies understand.