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Quick Tips for Handling Offensive People in Critical Conversations

During critical conversations, a person may become offensive, dominating the conversation. Even when discussing a problem one-on-one, a person who takes the offensive during a critical conversation is not open to the idea of solving the problem together. In both situations, offensive people can get in the way of making progress during critical conversations.

There are various ways in which someone might go on offense during a conversation. Perhaps the individual is pushing buttons or being overly aggressive. If you’re in a group conversation, try to redirect the conversation by asking others to participate in the discussion. First, acknowledge their participation and then turn to others in the room and ask, “How about the rest of you? What are some of your views?”

An offensive participant can become dominating quickly, so try to diffuse the situation by actively including others.

If you’re having a one-on-one discussion and the individual starts going on the offensive, perhaps by telling you what you need to do (“You need to be a better manager,” “You need to give me more time,” or “You need to brush your teeth more”), acknowledge his statements, and then turn the discussion back to the purpose.

For example, you may say, “I recognize that I can do things differently to support you. If you feel confident that we have a clear understanding of the problem, let’s look at what you, I, and we can do together to make things better.”

Acknowledge that improvement isn’t a one-way street, but in the end the other individual needs to be willing to take responsibility for changing his behavior (with your support, of course).

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