The following is part 1 in a series about ways to handle confrontation that I hope to add to from time to time. A client asked me the other day about a situation he found himself in. He went out on a date with a girl. They shared a couple beers. Things seemed to be going well but then when the bill arrived they got into a discussion about who would pay for the drinks.
Subsequently, the girl announced, "You're going to pay for the drinks or I'm going to leave now."
My client paid up.
Later the two of them ended up making out.
I was surprised when I heard that. "Really?" I said. "I'm surprised. I thought that exchange would have killed the vibe. Well good for you."
"Yeah," he said, "But I felt gross about the whole thing - as if I paid for her physical attention."
"That makes sense. Most people would feel the same way."
"What would you have done?"
"Well, it's always easier for me to come up with solutions after the fact in the comfort of my own slippers. In America we call that 'Monday morning quarterbacking.' But this is actually an easy one. I would have bought the drinks too."
"Sure. I just would have made it conditional."
In a situation such as this, spending a little money is not the issue. Most of us are fine throwing around a few dollars, or Euros in this case, in an act of nonreciprocal generosity. It's just that we don't want to be seen giving into extortion or threats.
I would have said, "I'd love to pay for the drinks. It will be my pleasure. However just so you know, I'm doing so because I'm nice and I don't want to make a scene, not because you're threatening to leave."
That would have delivered the proper message. If my client did something similar he could then continue the interaction having avoided a possibly embarrassing scene and saved face for both of them. "She probably just had different expectations and felt backed into a conversational corner." I later said to Erika about the case. A Conditional Yes is great for those moments when you're agreeable to a suggested course of action but don't want to be seen doing so based on the bullying conversational tactics of other people.
I'll give you another example from my own life.
I was parking my Vespa in a space in front of a coffee shop recently here in Los Angeles (the city of road rage) when a truck pulled into my space behind me. I love the two wheel lifestyle and living in LA without a car is a badge of honor for me, but having cars make aggressive moves when I'm riding a scooter is scary.
The driver jumps out and says to me, "What the fuck is going on? Can't you see I've been waiting for this spot?"
He picked on the wrong conversational master. Not to brag, but I used to make a living street performing. I know how to use my words to make men cry. I'm a fucking Killer. Frankly, I can enjoy confrontation and belittling an opponent way too much. Like the Terminator, my options roll down my internal screen. My brain began to key up into verbal spanking mode. It started to catalogue my opponents physical imperfections - fitting them into familiar quip-formats and sending that to my verbal buffer. This guy was about to be in for a bad day. Oh well, he probably deserved it. He probably beats his kids and doesn't recycle.
But wisdom got the best of me. In this situation as much as I would like to bomb on my opponent about his age, his hair, his accent, his obvious lack of good breeding and possible lineage from women of bad repute - as much as I would like to do that, using a Conditional Yes is the wiser move in this case. The guy was right. I had made a mistake. I had thought his truck was backing out of another spot. Looking back and remembering the position of his vehicle he obviously was waiting for the spot - albeit in an unconventional orientation. And also, let's face it, I drive a scooter - I can park almost anywhere. It was the right thing to do to give the guy the space. I just didn't want to give in to bullying tactics.
So I said, "Sure, I'm happy to give you the space. Not because you're acting like such an asshole but because I can see now that you were waiting for it."
I moved out of the space and parked in another spot nearby. I walked into the coffee shop and bought the bag Christmas Blend coffee for Erika that she liked. Then I walked out the door, on the way to my scooter. The guy from my confrontation was waiting for me.
He walked up to me and said, "Sorry I was such a jerk."
"No worries," I said. "LA makes the worst of us sometimes." We smiled and parted as friends.
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