“Whatever,” said James, folding his arms at the end of our meeting. “I guess I’ll have to do your work for you.” 

Huh? I thought, shocked at the rudeness of his comment, and immediately felt my heart race and thoughts jumble. I realized: I was under attack. Stick up for yourself, Sue! I thought.

Suddenly, I remembered “the Bounceback.” And then a favorite Bible verse: “He gives power to the faint” (Isaiah 40:29). You can do it, I told myself, took a deep breath, and began: 

Without anger, I looked him in the eye and said calmly, “You just said, ‘Whatever, I guess I’ll have to do your work for you,’ and folded your arms.” 

That’s it. That’s all I said. And then I waited. James looked visibly surprised at this mirroring of his words and actions. He had probably expected me to engage in the attack, but instead he was hearing his own words and seeing his own body language bounce back to him. After a pause, James unfolded his arms, relaxed his body and said: “I’m sorry. What I meant to say was….” 

And just like that, we talked it out. And the best part? He never spoke to me like that again. 

——

Let’s face it: most of us hate conflict. The eye-roll in a meeting, the stealing of your idea, the passive-aggressive side-comment. We work hard to avoid it, but it always comes knocking. And when it does, we enter into a “triggered” state of mind and get tongue-tied. We want to be kind as well as end the conflict, but emotions take over and it’s hard to know what to do. The antidote? Preparation. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of a powerful technique that will stop conflict in its tracks and transform the way people treat you. I call it “the Bounceback.”

The Bounceback Technique

  1. Recognize it

The moment someone attacks you, either directly or passive-aggressively, the important first step is to recognize that you’re being attacked. You’ll initially feel a sense of surprise: “something isn’t right here.” You might feel a pit in your stomach. Your heart may begin racing. You’ll probably find it hard to think straight. You are triggered and officially in the center of a “conflict.” Say to yourself: “It’s okay. I know what to do. It’s time to implement the bounceback.”

  1. Listen and look

You now know that you’re being attacked, but you probably missed the specifics of that first violation while your brain was recognizing the attack. They’re likely to do something else, so watch and listen carefully. You don’t have to catch every violation; one is enough. Listen to their word choice, notice their volume, and watch their body language. Did you spot one? Now you’re ready.

  1. Call it out

The core of the bounceback is this fundamental step: Calmly call out what you just observed, as in: “I just shared an idea with you and you rolled your eyes.” “I notice you’re raising your voice and pointing at me.” “You just said ‘I would never have done that.'” “You just laughed at me.” Say this without anger or emotion, like you’re explaining the weather. 

  1. Wait

Believe it or not, that may be the only thing you need to say. The focus is no longer on you scrambling to defend yourself against an unjustified attack in a triggered state of mind, but it’s back on them and their behavior. They can’t argue with the facts that just happened, so they typically acknowledge what they’ve done, apologize, and even share what’s really behind their behavior. What they rarely do is act rudely to you again. In a single bounceback, you’ve taught them how to treat you. They know that any future rudeness will likely bounce back to them. And hearing yourself be rude is just, well, embarrassing. Even if they don’t apologize, they’ve felt the sting of their own words, which will prevent future rudeness. 

  1. Forgive them

Whether they apologize or not, you’ve said your peace, and you no longer carry this. Think of all the times you’ve lost your temper and been forgiven, your countless blessings, and the grace of God in your life. “[A]s the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13) Most people are well-intentioned and may be dealing with things we don’t understand. Thank God for this opportunity to stretch yourself. Then forgive them and move on. 

  1. Forgive yourself

That was hard. It took courage to be direct. The easier thing would have been to say nothing and privately stew about it. No matter how well you pulled it off, applaud yourself for trying and forgive yourself for any stumbles. Imagine what you’d say to your daughter or best friend who is trying this technique for the first time. Say that same thing to yourself. 

Considerations

  • Move fast: Don’t wait too long. Waiting weeks suggests that you’ve been stewing, which reduces your credibility. Waiting also opens the door for them to say, “I don’t remember it that way.” If too much time has passed, it’s often better to simply use the bounceback on a future incident.
  • Stick to the facts: Don’t add commentary. If you say, “That was rude,” for example, they can reply: “Well, that’s your opinion.” And they’re right. Stay away from opinion. Stick to objective, observable behavior: word choice, volume and body language.
  • Let them get “off stage”: If you’re in a group, and your bounceback will publicly shame the other person, pull the person aside after the meeting. In rare situations, such as when you observe bullying, you may need to do a bounceback in the middle of the meeting. I’ve had to do this on stage at a conference when my co-panelist verbally attacked somebody in the room. 
  • Escalate if needed: What if the person continues their behavior? At that point, I calmly explain my minimum bar: “My expectation is that you will speak to me respectfully.” And if that doesn’t work? I say: “You’re still speaking disrespectfully, so I have to end this conversation.”

Raising a mirror in the middle of a conflict is hard, like telling someone they have spinach in their teeth. It takes courage.

But the faster we do it the more quickly and gracefully the conflict will end. Painful as they are, these moments are opportunities: to practice critical leadership skills and to trust we are not alone. If we are courageous enough to lean on God and face conflict directly, He will supply the courage we need. “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29). 

So, the next time someone is rude to you, try the Bounceback.  Calm yourself, immediately name the behavior you witnessed and wait for them to respond.

Sue Warnke
Sue Warnke

Sue Warnke is the Senior Director of Content & Communications Experience at Salesforce, and President of Faithforce San Francisco and Christians@Salesforce networks. After a lifetime as a proud agnostic, Sue began following Jesus in 2017. Now Sue is helping spark a movement of authentic faith in the workplace. She shares best practices for integrating faith and work in her blog, Leanership, which you can subscribe to at www.leanership.org/subscribe.

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