9 Essential Tools for Surviving Conflict
Recently I found myself in a situation where I was coming up against a conflict with someone I perceived as a “predator”. Not in the more common sense of a sexual predator, nor the cinematic sense of an ugly claw-mouthed, dread-locked killer alien (although, if I had to choose one, it was closer to this than the former).
This person was more of a “psychological predator”. I would consider a psychological predator as someone who is perpetually manipulative, controlling, gas-lighting, target-shifting, and let’s not forget their desperate need to control the narrative. A cunning manipulator, we’ve all known one (if not many). My blood pressure elevates just THINKING about walking into a conflict with someone like this. It’s hard not to feel defenseless against this type of predator since their motives defy our traditional ideas of decency and predictability. For those of us who just DO NOT function that way, it is so hard to comprehend. So, what happens when this type of conflict seems unavoidable? What happens when the person confronting you is in a power position over you, in terms of size or authority??
As someone who easily tires of beating around the bush, I lose patience with this type of nonsense. It makes you just want to shout, “If there’s an issue, let’s get it out there! Say what you mean! Quit playing games!” Which of course would be fruitless, as it would be twisted against you too. And if something isn’t worth confronting, then stomp your little angry feet and get over it, no sense dragging things out any longer than necessary.
Is it wild to hope for the same courtesy among others? (yes. almost always yes.)
Your wild hope of a peaceful “go along to get along” attitude just does not play for people who have unspoken expectations. When things reach fever pitch, you have to prepare for what comes next… Conflict.
In my own recent conflict, I reached out to one of the smartest, most self-aware, and mentally well women I have the pleasure to know. I knew that I needed back up to handle this thing, we had lunch together and talked strategy. I knew I needed to stay strong and not lose my bearings and didn’t know how exactly to do that other than “rabbit-holing” (running the gamut of possibilities) it. I knew that I needed to get ahead of my potential triggers, Injustice and pointless ugliness, because they were most certainly going to be pushed.
I expressed to this mentor that I wanted to be prepared and to keep myself together, she asked what tools I had…
Um…. tools? I don’t know…
What follows is some of the best advice I have ever received, which I am now passing on to whoever might happen upon this and need it.
Put your armor on
She explained to me that when she used to have to deal with difficult people in her life who were hurtful she would imagine she was putting on her “armor”. In her case it was a HAZMAT suit. She could withstand a significant amount of vitriol when she knew she had her suit on. She could imagine any of the crap thrown at her being thwarted by the bright yellow suit.
Perfect. Armor donned.
Carry your strengths with you
She gave me homework. I had to write down all my “wonderful characteristics” as she put it. All my strengths, all the things that I KNOW are true about me and my character. I filled a page in a steno pad with a long list of things. She told me to carry it with me when I was going to walk into that situation. I folded it up and put it over my heart. It became my shield. She said, “when you feel like you might cry, or you are being put down you just remember that shield over your heart.
Got it. Shield equipped.
Symbols & Talismans
This is something that she recommended, but I also learned about something similar in my EMDR training. When you want to “secure a space” so that you feel more safe you can consider bringing along something symbolic that makes you feel safer or stronger. For instance, I took the tag off of my dog’s collar and pocketed it. Having my dog nearby makes me feel secure, safe, and most importantly unconditionally loved, so his tag was a portable reminder of that. She recalled a situation where she was walking into a similar situation and needed to be “cool as a cucumber” so, in the folder she had with her she printed off a bunch of pictures of cucumbers and glued them inside. This may sound silly, but isn’t that kind of that kind of the point here? Silliness can help prevent that boil-over you don’t want.
Another talisman I used was a necklace my mom gave me that speaks to strength (pictured). Another something that reminded me how loved I am, and how much more I am than whatever this situation might lead to.
Dress to impress… Yourself
Wear clothes that you feel comfortable, but look great in. I make this distinction because you likely can’t walk into just any situation with your favorite holey sweats, bra-less, in a cozy old t-shirt, so dress in a way that feels good so it doesn’t distract you from your empowerment. Feeling and Looking great goes a long way. Make your hair look good, wear makeup (ya know, if that’s your gig) that makes you feel awesome and gorgeous and TELL YOURSELF THAT YOU ARE! You’re doing well if you’re “Feeling yourself” as you walk in to this confrontation!
There is power in Pen and Pad
There is something about walking into a confrontation with a notepad and a pen. It granted me the opportunity to keep the notes I needed right in front of me, that way I was less likely to become flustered and lose my footing. These items give you something to occupy your hands with if you are an awkward person like me who just never really knows what to do with their hands (I couldn’t help but picture Ricky Bobby as I typed that, hahaha!). Your “predator” (or opponent if you prefer) may be taken aback just by you having a notepad in your hands. This perceived accountability for how they “come at you” means they may have to change their tactics. The notes I made before the confrontation allowed me to look over my key points (see next item on the list) and encouragements to myself so that I could reground myself should things start to get twisted, or I were to feel myself getting emotional.
Condense your “argument” to a few key points
It’s easy to lose sight of your stance or just get tangled up in the weeds in a stressful situation like this one, particularly with someone you perceive as a psychological predator. This is why I strongly recommend condensing your “argument” (or stance) to as few all-encompassing points as possible. This is especially important when your potential foe is good at picking apart tiny details, or derailing you down a sideline. If you can direct things back to a key point (that you can have written down right in front of you on your notepad) you can maintain control over what you need to get across and not fall into a trap.
Devote time to considering every possible outcome
This is probably the most strenuous step of the ones listed here. I understand that it is trying to go down every rabbit hole of what you could come up against, not to mention stressful. However this is crucial to not only making your key points, but also to preparing yourself to keep your cool should any of those things actually go down. Think from the very best case to the very worst case and everything in between.
Write down what you want to get out of this exchange
Is there a point you need to make? Have suggestions? Concessions you might be willing or able to make? What is your goal for this interaction? The least you hope to get out of it (solutions and outcomes)? Make a note of these on your pad!
Expect the unexpected
Ultimately, you can prepare, prepare, and prepare some more for this thing and still be blindsided, still act out in a way you hadn’t planned, and still stumble. At the end of the day, you can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do in response to them and how you recover.
Some bridges beg to be burned and if you have done all you can to prepare and prevent and it still goes awry, it’s time to take stock of your strengths and your courage to stand up for yourself. Give yourself grace for doing what you could to stare down that predator, even if you were bested in the end. In my experience, conflicts like these can be the BEST thing to happen to you, even if they feel like total sh*t in the moment.
Ultimately, There is a lesson in there, and it’s your job to find it and look on to the next opportunity.
It may just be time to be that cool guy who walks away from the explosion without looking back at it.