There are times when conflict is nearly inevitable. This is when choice points in an interaction are particularly critical. Imagine a simple situation like this. Someone says to you:
“You always have to have the last word?”
A natural reaction would be, “Look who’s talking” or “It takes one to know one.” Both of these use a choice point to escalate conflict rather than reduce it. If you know this isn’t a completely accurate description of you, why not use your choice point to inject some humor. “And your point is?” might just do that.
The beauty of this comeback, if executed well, is that the other person’s choices are then limited. Of course he can persist with insulting you, but if your humorous comeback surprises and amuses him, that choice is unlikely.
He could say, “You know what I mean. You don’t know when to shut up.”
You’re at a choice point again and you now know that this person didn’t accidentally offend you. The intension was to insult. And he isn’t going to let up easily.
Still, you might decide not to react, but rather to respond by saying: “I do tend to talk too much when I’m passionate about something.”
Here you’re allowing this person to be partially correct. Yet, you aren’t insulting yourself much at all. If he still wants to argue or drive his point home, he might say, “Then you must be passionate about everything. You can’t control yourself.”
At this point, you have to decide if he’s exceeded your threshold for responding with comebacks that give him the opportunity to do the right thing. If so, it could be time to say, “Oh, I’m in control of myself right now, believe me.”
Depending on how you’ve “pulsed” this person, you may be betting that he’ll get the message that you’re not about to back down, but you’re also not anxious to have a full-fledged altercation.
If he replies with silence, you might fit in: “I’ll take your advice, think it over, and see what I can do about the last-word part. But for now let’s get back to what we were talking about before this happened.”
Again you’re doing most of the work. And people often ask why they should. The answer is that if you know how to avoid confrontation and the other person doesn’t, then it’s to your benefit and his to apply your expertise. Perhaps he has never heard of choice points or considered that he is at least 75% responsible for how people respond to him. He just says what he’s thinking. If you like this person or must work with him and he is generally not confrontative, why not end the conversation in a reasonably positive way?
Another alternative should he persist is to say: “I guess this is where we ask ourselves whether we’re here to fix me or to enjoy the evening (finish the project). I vote for the second one.”
Recognizing choice points is critical to dealing constructively with people intent on being negative. Knowing how to identify them and insert a comeback that directs the conversation away from confrontation is an extremely valuable skill.