By Kathy Marlor
One of the best people-skills and self-defense skills you can develop is the ability to let another person “save face” or take an “honorable exit” when they knowingly or sometimes unknowingly have crossed the line or have exhibited inappropriate behavior towards you.
An honorable exit is when you let someone off the hook without embarrassing them or escalating a potential conflict. Instead, you put tactful, assertive communication to work and allow the offender to back down while “saving face” without feeling embarrassed or resentful.
Once you learn this key life skill, you’ll be empowered to be more honest with people about how you feel and not have to “put up” or “tolerate” inappropriate behavior from others that can add stress to your life. This skill is paramount to possess-be it in the workplace, with family and friends and with people you encounter in your every day life. It’s also one of the key skills that many of us lack, as it has to be learned and practiced to truly master it.
Let me explain further by giving you a few examples of using assertive, tactful communication to let someone “save face” or take an honorable exit.
Scenario one: Imagine that you’re at an office party with lots of your co-workers. You know one of them is attracted to you, but you don’t share their enthusiasm to date and in fact, you really don’t like them. After some liquid encouragement (alcohol) and some peer pressure from their friends, they approach you to ask you out while their friends watch.
Rather than telling them directly that you don’t like them or want to date them-tell them something like: “Hey thanks, but I have someone I’m already interested in and it’s not a good idea to date a co-worker.” While you say this, you are confident, polite and somewhat compassionate, knowing that they will have to go back to their friends and face them.
If you choose to take an aggressive approach instead, telling your co-worker that you really don’t like them anyway, in fact you’d never date someone like them, and tell them to get away from you because they disgust you… you’re asking for future trouble. In fact, embarrassing someone as in this scenario is a good way to create resentment and retaliation. You hear stories in the news all the time of people who felt mistreated by co-workers who then came back to harm them later.
In this scenario, if the co-worker, seems to not be getting the message, then you can still tactfully tell them, “I’m not interested in dating you, and hope that won’t affect our work relationship.”
Scenario two: You just got to the gym and lucked out by whizzing into the last “good” parking space. You’ve just ticked-off a person who unbeknownst to you, has been circling the lot for five minutes looking for a good space. Now this person directs their anger towards you, accusing you of intentionally “stealing their space” and wants to tell yell at you and argue!
To keep the situation from getting worse, you assertively tell them that just like them, you were looking for a good space and pulled in. “I had no way of knowing that you had been looking for a while and just grabbed an open space” I certainly didn’t try to “steal it from you, but I can see how you may have thought that after searching for a space for a while, but I assure you, that wasn’t my intent.”
At this point, the person who is upset will usually calm down realizing that maybe the parking space theft wasn’t intentional or they may spout off a little more and then drive off to get another spot and get over it.
Either way, you communicated that you didn’t purposely take their spot, and gave them a way to back down by telling them you could see how they thought you took the spot on purpose.
Scenario three: You have a friend, co-worker or boss who tends to touch your shoulders when they talk to you or always wants to hug you when they see you; this is creepy to you and makes you uncomfortable every time you see them, but you’re not sure how to ask them to stop, without making them feel bad, risking conflict or making matters worse.
First, assume that they don’t know how you feel about it. Say something like: “Hey can I talk to you for a minute? You probably don’t realize it, but every time you come up behind me and put your hands on my shoulders (insert other behavior here), it makes me uncomfortable. Could you please approach me from the front?
In most cases, the offender will be apologetic and this gives you a chance to reiterate that you know they didn’t mean anything by it. (Chances are, they really didn’t.)
One of my favorite honorable exits of all time was directed at me, lol! I worked in a company remotely and flew into the main office in a different state, just a few times a year. When arriving at the office, most of the executives hugged me, as I knew them before they hired me. When I reached out to hug one of them, that I hadn’t know as long as the others, they tactfully let me know with a sense of humor that they were not a hugger, but more like a hand-shaker. I quickly got the message and use that line when I teach seminar scenarios on declining unwanted attention.
If you don’t speak-up to let the other person know that their behavior bothers you, they may think it’s okay and continue. Holding it in, building-up your own resentment and then speaking-up aggressively may cause an uncomfortable issue in the workplace and they may resent you and try to make your life difficult.
Scenario four: This one is more for the men reading this article, although more and more women are getting into altercations from territorial issues like: that’s my parking space, my seat, my this and my that.
Imagine you’re in a sports bar during a game and are minding your own business watching a big screen TV. One of the guys (again whose been drinking and is feeling pretty tough) decides that you’re not watching TV, but must be staring at his girlfriend and doesn’t like it. He aggressively approaches you and says “Hey A$$hole, why are you looking at my girl? Can’t you get your own?” Your goal when someone is extremely aggressive is not to make the situation worse, but to use assertive behavior to try to resolve the conflict, and if all else fails to leave the premises to avoid an unsolvable conflict with someone under the influence that can’t be reasoned with.
In this scenario when accosted with something like: “Hey A$$hole, why are you looking at my girl? Can’t you get your own?” Assertively and firmly say, “I was actually watching the game on the TV that is behind you, but I can see why you thought I was looking at your girl…whose your team?”
If the aggressive person is still being a jerk, you may try one more time to calm him down by telling him confidently and assertively something like: “Hey, you’re a lucky guy, but I was honestly just watching the my team and the game.”
After this, if verbal abuse or aggressive stares are coming your way, you may decide that it’s just better to leave and go somewhere else. Keep your eyes on them, behave with confidence and use assertive body language as you leave. You don’t need a problem; It’s not being a coward, it’s being smart; After all, getting into a fight these days can mean injuries, missed work, medical bills, lawsuits and even death.
By now, I think you’re probably getting the idea that giving someone a way out is smart. Adding aggression can make any situation worse and can be like pouring gasoline on a fire. Sure, sometimes, you may luck out and the person may leave you alone out of fear; but treating someone that way may come back to haunt you in the form of retaliation.
Always remember, you’re just an “extra” in everyone else’s play of life. You never know what their mental state is truly like, what kind of bad day they’ve had and you could be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” that day. So whenever possible use assertiveness to resolve conflict and keep it from getting worse.
About the author: Kathy Marlor has been involved in martial arts and self-defense for 30 years. She’s a FAST Defense instructor and teaches private seminars for groups, individuals and businesses in the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay area of Florida. She can be reached at: Kathy@stpeteselfdefense.com.