Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to Deal with Conflict

The RBC Technique

Nice Guys tend to have the problem with dealing directly with conflict. Any time there is a conflict a Nice Guy will typically acquiesce in attempt to maintain the peace. Of course, there is a price to this submission – the conflict never gets resolved. Typically, a Nice Guy will slink off after avoiding a confrontation and lick his wounds as a victim. Then instead of dealing with the problem directly, he will express his anger if a passive-aggressive manner.

I knew a married woman at work who was intelligent, funny and quite pretty. However, she had the unfortunate habit of spending much of her time in an inappropriate manner with other men. Her husband was the typical Nice Guy. He provided well, was kind and considerate. He also had the Nice Guy trait of avoiding conflict. So instead of dealing with the situation directly, he just pouted and became resentful. According to her, he was always acting in a passive-aggressive manner.

Years later I learned that she divorced this guy. So his Nice Guy attempt to appease and pacify his wife actually resulted in the thing he feared the most – her leaving him.

This is a common scenario I have seen repeated many times. And this Nice Guy aversion to conflict is repeated in all aspects of life, not just relationships. I have seen Nice Guys in a work environment avoid conflict at all costs and then complain and bitch about their woeful situation all day. Nice Guys are always victims.

The technique I developed to deal with conflict is what I call RBC – Repeat, Boundaries, Consequences. I am sure that this is a variation of some other ideas, but this is what I used over the years to overcome my Nice Guy syndrome.

A few notes concerning each step:

Repeat (R)

This first step is to repeat back the behavior that you find objectionable.

As an example, I was on a international conference call and I could hear someone mutter the word “idiot” in regards to what I said. A typical Nice Guy approach would be to ignore the comment and sulk and pout. An Integrated Man approach is to directly deal with such a conflict.

As part of the “R” step, I immediate asked, “Do you just call me an idiot?”.

Such a response created instant silence. People who feel free to insult others usually are bullies who do not expect a response.

In the case of the married guy described above, the Repeat step would be do confront the wife with the objectionable act – “Did you have dinner with Tom?”

It is important to Repeat the specific action or behavior that you found objectionable so that the other person is clear as to the problem. (Clarity is a masculine trait, ambiguity is a feminine trait).

Boundary (B)
A Boundary is simply a definition of what behavior you will or will not tolerate. Typically we will get the behaviors we tolerate.

Nice Guys tend to have weak boundaries. They tend to allow people to walk over them in an attempt to maintain peace and keep their approval. Ironically, this attempt of appeasement tends to actually cause the other person to lose more respect in you.

In the real-life conference call example, I told the person who called me an idiot that I do not tolerate such disrespectful talk. This set a clear boundary. Simply setting a boundary will may times encourage someone to respect it.

In the married guy example, he should have told his wife in no uncertain terms that he would not tolerate her having dinner dates with other men. As a Nice Guy he was probably worried that setting such a boundary would cause his wife to get mad at him and leave him. The truth is that setting such boundaries probably would have caused her to gain respect of him and it could have saved the marriage.

No matter what the circumstance (business or personal) it is key that people understand your boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Consequence (C)

A boundary without a consequence is of no value. The consequence is the “teeth” that enforces the boundary. It is typically a type of IF-THEN clause.


– IF you talk to me again in such a manner, THEN I will end this conference call and refuse to conduct business with you

– IF you meet another man for dinner again, THEN I will divorce you

Stating the clear consequence requires balls. And as most Nice Guys desperately seek the approval of others (especially women) they usually lack the courage to act in an assertive manner.


  1. Great advice. Simple yet effective. Thanks.

  2. I this is a response model to try, however, I'm not sure this will work in many circumstances as the boundary will entice most caustic people.

    The consequence must be more biting in my opinion. Also, the consequence may not be feasible depending on your lack of power or influence. For example, an abusive boss might laugh at the consequence then hold you accountable for insubordination.

    I will try this approach however. Thanks for suggesting it.

  3. Excellent post.

    This is far better advice to (recovering) "nice guys" how to man up than most of the PUA bullshit out there.

    It all boils down to realizing that you are your own worst enemy. People have only power over you in as far as you let them (by caring).

    It is your own reaction to external events that counts. You can decide (at least theoretically) to be upset or to not care. You cannot change the other person or what happened, but you can change your reaction to it.

    My own way of dealing with conflicts is to either accept it (truly accept it in the way of being happy about it) or to change it (where there is a will). It takes some brains and training to see where change is impossible and to learn to accept those circumstances.

    However, wanting to change something you cannot, or accepting something you do not want and would be able to change are the best recipe of leading an unhappy life.