Decide how you would like the situation to end. Avoid doing anything that will reduce your chances of getting what you want, and don’t get angry if you are provoked. Often people enter into a conflict without knowing what they would like to achieve. Without this focus, our responses to conflict or anti-social behaviour may appear to be interfering or be escalating.

Before making your approach, ask yourself the following…

  • Is it necessary? Why do you want this outcome? Who would it benefit? Would others agree this outcome is needed? Would this outcome actually improve anything? Venting anger solely to make yourself feel better is not a defusing outcome.
  • Is it achievable? Can the outcome realistically be achieved in this moment? Is there time now? Would it be better to have the conversation later when anxiety is lower? 

Here’s an example – you are about to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing, when a car fails to stop at the lights, causing you to jump back. The car then pulls over further up the road. What do you do? Some people would get angry and would want to approach the driver of the car. Some people would simply shout a rude comment, while others might want to have a rational conversation about it, to stop it from happening to someone else. But what would you want to achieve?

There are many potential outcomes – for the driver to recognise the error of their ways, for them to apologise, or perhaps for them to promise it won’t happen again. But what can realistically be achieved in the few seconds before they drive off again?

If what you want to cross the road, you can now do so. A short conversation is unlikely to affect their long-term behaviour. Shouting at them or confronting them might make you feel better, but is also likely to escalate the situation. Perhaps seeing you jump back in alarm was enough to make them think twice.

Remember, if the risk is high, then your priority is to reduce this risk, or to get away. If anxiety is high, work to try and reduce it.

If the conflict is highly complex, then try to understand the situation. Once you have decided on your desired outcome, choose a response that will give you the best chance of achieving it.