We are always looking at workplace violence, street violence and domestic violence from the point of view of you as the victim. In our workplace violence training and in our de-escalation courses we start at the flash point, when things have blown up in your face and someone is threatening or attacking you. That is the “point of purchase” or the moment when the violent confrontation hits. You either succeed in verbally defusing the violent confrontation or you manage to escape or perhaps you physically overcome the attacker, which latter option could leave you facing legal consequences. * On that last point there is in law what is called the “eggshell cranium rule”. This came from a case in which someone shoved someone but not that hard.
The victim fell and his head broke and he died. It turned out he had a medical condition of an unusually thin skull but the court found that the defendant must “take their victims as he finds them.” In other words you broke it, you bought it.
Or you succeed in doing none of the three options above and you end up being physically attacked or killed. You join the statistics. Those statistics are about nineteen people per week murdered at their workplace in the U.S.
Despite that horrendous statistic which has been typical for the past couple decades and rising, and we suspect will be a lot worse for 2020 and particularly for 2021 once the data is all in, your individual chances of facing a truly violent encounter are still more on the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime order, unless of course you are a police officer, security guard, or, sadly enough, you work in healthcare which has four times the average rate of workplace violence. Other professions and jobs such as teachers, hospitality workers, big box, fast food, airline and transportation also are on the higher end of the scale of risk.
But in this article let’s look at the other end of the scale: the little fights and arguments that can happen daily or many times a day. This is the death by a thousand cuts. This is the misery of living amongst a bunch of crazy people and maybe, just possibly, and even if not intentionally just being one of them yourself.
One way to not start a fight is to not be there, but in the following very unusual way. This is based on a concept by a Harvard Business School professor who was a master negotiator. Pardon me but I forget his name. He called it “Go to the mezzanine.” When you are arguing or negotiating, see yourself as if from above, as if you were on a mezzanine staring down at yourself on the floor below. Now if the other person says something insulting or irksome, you are not really there. You are above it. You control the pieces on the chessboard, and one of the pieces is you. Another way to look at it is that you are transparent and the stuff – the words, the challenges – just passes right through you.
Try this experiment. Right now how are you feeling? Become aware of that. Now make yourself feel a little better. You can do it! Just picture yourself feeling better, feeling good. Breathe in through your nose. Lift the air from your lower diaphragm into your upper diaphragm in your chest. Inspire. Feel good. Sure, it is like a drive-through meditation. Fast-serve mediation. Now, when that other person is tangling with you a little bit, you, up on your mezzanine, breathe in and feel good. You let your little invincible avatar which is you down on the floor below respond to the person with a smile. You say something smart that isn’t part of the argument-that-was-going-to-be. You’ve stepped outside of that game. For example you might say, “You know, we’re all in this together.”
But wasn’t it the other person that tried to start that fight? Why is the title of this article “How to Not Start a Fight or Argument”? The reason is because at this very subtle, incipient stage before things have really got going it is very hard to say who is starting the fight. It just flares up from what had been going back and forth between you and the other person. You can blow the match out. You can take the oxygen away from the match. Before it gets going it is a very weak thing. So if your attitude is relaxed, and you have a mechanism to feel good, to deflect things, to go to the mezzanine, then you won’t start the fight. You’ll put it out. It takes two to fight.
In the martial art/spiritual practice of Tai Chi, it is said that if you push or punch into a master of the art you will push into nothing…into a ghost…into the wind. This ability to be flexible and to flow in such a way that an attack is not an attack, and to be able to quiet and quell the intention of the attack, and to maintain your calm center is another expression of the same idea in the Harvard master negotiator’s “going to the mezzanine.”
Another concept that will help you handle workplace violence, verbal abuse in the workplace, and workplace harassment as well as in the world outside of work, comes from famous trial attorney Gerry Spence, who for a period of twenty-five years won every civil and criminal case he handled. For Spence the word “argument” does not connote a bad thing. But by argument he does not mean vociferous, angry words laden with curses and personal insults. He means getting someone to see the truth in yourself and perhaps coming to share your view. It does not mean beating down and destroying the other person. He recommends that you empower the other person to reach a decision. You acknowledge that they have that power. You may encourage them to think not just in terms of themselves but as if they were responsible for the good of everyone and the whole society. You also have to find at least the possibility of something that would indeed satisfy their individual needs. If you want to read a great book, read his “How to Argue and Win Everytime”. It is not a bag of tricks. It is not how to defeat the other side but rather how to reframe things, make people think, be more aware of the emotional needs and not just the logical argument. And that’s all true because as my Psych 101 professor taught us, the logical argument is just a bunch of symbols and coverups for the emotional thing that is really being discussed.