A level 10 response to a level 2 situation is how a friend of mine describes those times when someone flies off the handle for what is seemingly a non-issue. It’s that semi ballistic, totally unexpected, jaw dropping, huhnhn ……..what just happened here moment.
When that happens, I often need to tell myself ‘it is them, not me’.
Sure, I ask myself, ‘how might I have contributed to the unexpected response’, but I know that a level 10 response to a level 2 situation means that there is something else going on. They may be having a really bad day, be reminded of something awful in their life, have deeply held and opposite beliefs, or dislike something in themself. But I don’t need to know any why to know that it is them, not me.
I had a small version happen the other day. In the midst of a conversation that was going well, I shared something that obviously and immediately did not sit well with the other person. From my perspective, the commentary went from good to defensive to attacking with some interesting absolutes and innuendos.
What does one do in these situations? Lots of options – defend, attack back, apologize, move to silence, and probably others.
I didn’t do any of these but used some tools I’ve learned for dealing with high conflict situations. Not that this was super high conflict, but the tools are pretty useful in all sorts of situation.
First I took a breath. Breathing is always good. And I forced my body to assume a relaxed but confident appearing pose. Shoulders down, head up, hands relaxed.
I then reminded myself that an out of proportion response is a red flag for something deeper. And then asked myself, ‘Is it worth going deeper to understand this?’ If this had been a close relationship, I probably would have taken the time to go deeper. This was not, so I opted for ending the conversation.
My response was something akin to “I can see we have different views and we’re unlikely to change each others perspectives. Thank you for sharing your perspective and thanks for listening to mine.” Notice that I kept my response brief. Importantly, I didn’t argue any of their points nor did I go try to defend any of mine.
As you might imagine, they came back with additional comments. I indicated that I heard them “I hear your points”. And then repeated, “I can see we have different views and we’re unlikely to change each others perspectives. Thank you for sharing your perspective and thanks for listening to mine.”
At this point, I was able to politely end the conversation and leave.
Now, please hear me. There are conversations that we need to stick with – those hard discussions with people we care about or about things we care about.
But I’ve learned that is is a no-win situation to argue with people who are unexpectedly angry. In those situations, the anger is not because of what I said, how I said it, who I am, or any of those things. It is something in the other person.
However, the anger can be targeted at me. And this can become anywhere from uncomfortable to unsafe depending on the circumstances. I know some people may stick with the conversation a little longer to ‘understand the other side’. In a level two situation, I don’t need to understand why a person has a level 10 response. When a situation becomes uncomfortable, I am a proponent of leaving before it turns to unsafe.