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Rising to the Bait – Addressing the Instigator

background-1293455_1280I am someone who has buttons that are very easily pushed depending on the subject matter. It is evident when someone is getting a rise out of me, which is why certain people in my life seem to enjoy doing it. These people I like to call “instigators.” The Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines an instigator as, “a person who causes something to happen, especially something bad.”

When I was going through my teenage years, my father was the instigator. He and I would bicker over just about everything during those years. I remember after my dad, and I’s disagreements my mother would say to me, “Abby you need to not rise to the bait, that is what he wants.” But, I never listened and to this day, I hear her voice in my head when someone touches a nerve – “Abby you need to NOT rise to the bait, that is what they want.”

I know it is still easy to tell when someone is pushing my buttons by the look on my face – I still struggle to control and neutralize my facial reactions. However, I believe I have a better understanding of how to handle these situations when someone is pushing my buttons better than my teenage self.

First, recognize your triggers. Be aware of the subject matters that you are most passionate about – you can tell which ones they are by your physical response when they are brought up. When someone brings up any topic on the subject of males vs. females and shows favoritism towards the male perspective, I feel my face heat up and my jaw-clench.

The solution I use to calm my physical response to someone setting off my triggers is to focus on my breathing. I have found that this cools me down and allows me to think more clearly.

Second, recognize the instigator. If you have ever got into a heated exchange with this person before over this topic, or they have seen you engage with someone else, they are likely goading you. Individuals who instigate others feel rewarded when they have successfully set you off. Just like my Mom said, “It’s what they want.”

The solution I found the most success with is calling the person out in a non-aggressive manner. “Jack, I know you know this topic frustrates me, are you trying to push my buttons?” By pointing out what they are doing, removes their power. If they respond with “Yes,” then you can discuss why they enjoy pushing your buttons?

Third, consider your weaknesses. Some topics like religion, politics, and money can get people so riled up, and instigators enjoy doing it. Will you be able to talk about a subject constructively? What is the point of getting your point across to the instigator? Is it to change their mind or is it to have a good discussion?

The solution is to know when to switch topics or walk away. If a person continues to poke your buttons, make the decision to walk politely away. Or you can change the subject, “Jenny, I would prefer not to discuss this matter.  But I was wondering, how did you enjoy the movie the other night?”

Don’t let yourself fall victim to the instigator!

Have a Good Weekend,

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management


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