Login | Contact

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


Leave a Reply

Humbling the Conflict Intervener – A Reflection

mirror-1138098_1920The other day I mentioned in passing to a co-worker that my husband and I had a disagreement. She looked shocked and said, ” I didn’t think you and your husband fought, because of your degree in conflict management.” This scenario isn’t the first time I have received a shocked reaction from someone who knows of my degree. The truth is, I am excellent at assisting others in managing their conflicts, but my own can be a little more difficult.

I will provide you with an example of a recent dispute between my husband and me and my reflection after. Bernard, my husband and I have an adorable and ornery puppy named Alvin, who is seven months old. Bernard and I have different beliefs on how to discipline Alvin when he is acting up. Last Friday, Alvin began behaving badly, and Bernard disciplined “his way” without consulting me first. I immediately became furious and started yelling, because that is my knee-jerk reaction when in the heat of a conflict. When I yell, Bernard shuts down and refuses to speak on the subject unless we can talk about it calmly.

I was emotional, so all rational thinking went out the window. I couldn’t gain perspective because I was entirely too entrenched in the situation. I am also stubborn, so I was holding onto my feelings and beliefs very tightly. We moved on from the situation Friday night without a resolution because I could feel myself getting angry all over again every time I thought about the topic.

So yesterday, I reflected on the dispute so that I could pinpoint what I was feeling and thinking and then determine what a solution would be to move forward.

I asked myself first, ” What is really bothering me?”

It wasn’t that Bernard disciplined Alvin his way though I disagreed with his method. It was that he did it without discussing it with me first. I felt that I didn’t have a voice or that my opinion didn’t matter. I also felt that by him just going ahead and disciplining Alvin his way, he expected me just to go along with it.

I then asked myself, “What did I do poorly in this conflict?”

I think it is always important to take responsibility for your contribution in any disagreement you might have. I didn’t recognize my triggers or realize that I was getting more mad. I yelled, which is when the conflict stalled because I couldn’t talk calmly. I also was so worked up the rest of the weekend that it further prolonged the conflict. I was stubborn and even once I recognized the real issues I still had too much pride to give in and discuss them with Bernard.

Lastly, I asked myself “What could I do to move forward with this conflict and what could I do better next time?

I sent Bernard a text message, which I know may not be the best and most mature forum. However, I have found that sometimes having the ability to edit what I say is helpful. I explained my feelings and expressed my issues, and we planned to discuss the situation more when we see each other face -to- face. Next time, I think it is important for me to walk away from Bernard for a little bit so that I can compose my thoughts and my emotions. I also believe that it would be helpful for me to write down my thoughts and feelings in my journal or on the dry erase boards we keep in our kitchen, just so that I can see it rather than keeping it in my head.

I am not a perfect person, and just because I went to school for Conflict Management certainly does not mean I won’t be involved with disputes. It is important when in conflict to reflect, recognize your triggers and set goals to do differently next time.

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

Leave a Reply

  • Subscribe by Email

    Join our mailing list to receive our newsletter and blogs!

  • Recent Posts