An Exercise in Meeting Conflict Straight On

How the "outrage enrage bifurcate" prevents you from dealing with conflict.

business people have meeting

Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle of it. On the right side of the page, list all the people whom you like and look forward to interacting with and after which you think to yourself, "I should talk to him/her more often."

On the left side, list all the people who just the thought of their name causes you to feel a knot in your stomach, chest or throat because they are the people who frustrate and exasperate you.

You avoid them because nearly every interaction leads to a disagreement and conflict with them which rapidly escalates and that you deal with by either becoming angry or just avoiding them.

There is another reason that causes you to avoid them called the "outrage enrage bifurcate." What that means is that underneath, you're not wanting to become angry or hurt them. There is a part of you that feels outraged by their behavior which can include anything from their yelling, being sarcastic and demeaning, whining, making excuses, etc.

You feel outraged because there has been a build-up over time of your frustration that you pushed inside to keep from becoming angry or upset (i.e., bifurcated) and it has reached a point where you might be tempted to become enraged toward them in the next interaction. That's because it might cause you to lash out at them with some mean and even cruel comments.

And you don't like admitting to yourself that you have such feelings and desires to retaliate because they cause you either to feel that you might lose control or to feel deep shame at feeling such rage and, dare I say, hatred.

Such people push into what is referred to as the "shadow" of your personality that you don't want the world or your conscious to know exists. Not to worry, everyone — except bullies who relish it — has a shadow to their personality that they feel the same about.

What Can You Do Instead?

Realize that if you find a "doable by you" way to confidently confront and deal with such people, your stress will go down, your self-respect (and the respect from others) will go up and you'll be able to deal with any situation

Identify those people on the left side of your sheet from above. Never expect them to not act up in some way if they don't want to do something or if they want to manipulate you into doing something you may not want to do.

Whenever you're having a conversation with them, hold some of yourself back so that they don't push you off balance with their "outrageous" behavior. After they have tried to provoke you, look them squarely in the eyes and pause for five seconds before you respond. If they feel nervous, it's because you caught them off guard and pushed them off balance in not being able to manipulate you and they may bark at you, "What?"

If that is the case, keep looking them in the eye and respond calmly, evenly, yet firmly with: "I'm sorry. I got distracted because you reminded me so much of someone else that I couldn't concentrate on what you said. It did seem important to you, so could you run it by me in a slower voice so that I'll be sure to capture all of it?"

At that point they may become agitated, to which you can repeat, "I said I was sorry for being distracted. It did seem important to you, so if you'd like me to listen fully, please do run it by me again." If they do take you up on your invitation, let them repeat it to you and respond with, "Just to make sure I got what you said, I heard you say (then repeat exactly word for word what they said which will force them to listen to you to see if you got it correctly)."

When you finish repeating it back to them and then checking to see if you got it right, say: "Given all of that, what is it that you'd like me to say or do in response? And by the way, if what that is is fair and reasonable to me and you, I'd be happy to do it, because I consider myself a fair and reasonable person. If, however, it's unfair and unreasonable, I may have a problem with it. Or I actually might do it, but then, of course, it's a favor and I'll want to ask one of you."

At that point, there is a very good chance that the other person will become so flustered that they'll say, "Never mind. Don't bother." With their knowing that they can no longer outrage-enrage you, there is a good chance they won't try it again and instead will go after someone else who is easier to manipulate. And that should be just fine with you.


Remember, those great people on the right side of the page you filled out at the beginning of this article? Make a point to reach out to them and thank them for being in your life, for what they did specifically to help you, and tell them what it personally meant to you.

One of the worst things you can do when difficult people are in your life is to focus too much on them and fail to thank the truly wonderful people who care about you.

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