How To Successfully Handle An Explosive Conversation

Have you ever been the victim of a bout of anger and rage in a social situation?

Maybe you’ve found yourself at an office lunch with that one person that knows exactly how to get to you, how to make subtle little comments that get your blood boiling.

You try to sit back and tell yourself to calm down, but you are upset, angry, and full of rage. You decide to let this fella have it and open your mouth to spew a stream of swearing.

But your emotions are clouded by anger and rage and you end up making a huge fool of yourself over something unimportant. This is what I like to call an explosive conversationExplosive conversations are usually one-sided, blood-pressure-increasing, illogical conversations that have no goal or purpose.

Here’s how you can control the situation. In order to avoid situations like these and explosive conversations, we must first understand why and how they happen.

Some people enjoy getting on another’s nerves. A term I’ll use to describe these people is “verbal abuser”. Verbal abuse is a common defense mechanism for discomfort and a way of disguising inferiority complexes. The goal of a verbal abuser is psychological domination.

Our goal is to be non-reactive to verbal abuse and escape from explosive conversations as soon as possible.

The first step to accomplishing this is realizing one simple fact: A conversation is in the control of the person listening. When someone talks to you they are soliciting a response from you. They want and need you to react. As the listener, you have the ability to determine where the conversation goes, if it goes at all.

The next step is to determine your approach: Passivity or Out-Framing. Each approach has their time but I find passivity to be used more frequently.

Passivity is employing the mindset that you do not care in the slightest about what is being said. In many social interactions, the person who reacts least is more “important”. Use to your benefit the realization that one tends to react earlier and additionally towards people that have a higher social “rank” than one.

By purely ignoring a speaker, you show that you are not even interested in thinking about what was said. This is a good approach for passivity but sometimes complete ignorance is not possible. In these cases, take your time before you respond. A delayed response shows that you are not unsettled and are non-reactive to verbal abuse.

Out-Framing is an approach derived from Neuro Linguistic Programming created by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. It is the idea that the meaning of a conversation is called the frame. For example, if I say to you “Hey, you are definitely not smart enough to work with me,” then I have set the frame such that you want to prove to me you are smart enough. Any second-level meaning to a conversation is called the meta-frame. In the above example, the meta-frame is set such that I am in a position of judging and you are in a position of proving, thus I am dominating.

When people try to engage you in an explosive conversation, they are trying to get you to accept a frame. By avoiding the frame and suggesting your own, you’ve escaped the explosive conversation.

To reset a frame, all you have to do is leave the answering to him. In the above example, an out-framing response would be something like “Under what criteria?” Basically, try to never find yourself directly defending yourself.

Try employing these methods whenever possible. You’ll find yourself engaged in an explosive conversation much less frequently.

5 Responses to How To Successfully Handle An Explosive Conversation

  1. Really useful tips: this has given me some insight into problems I’ve been having with a colleague. I like the “out framing” idea (I’ve tried ignoring and it’s not worked.) Thank you!


  2. Tim Bridge says:

    Hi Ali,

    Thanks! I agree. Sometimes ignoring just doesn’t work! As mentioned in the article the out-framing technique is a derivate of NLP. Here is another article you may find interesting about framing: .

    Thanks for visiting,

  3. Dale says:

    You present an interesting point here, but I disagree with your overall approach. It seems that the initial premise is that this other person is trying to get on your nerves, and so your whole approach involves having a degraded view of that person. Although this may work to some extent, it actually will cause you more pain. Think of it in the way of the framing you mentioned. If someone is being aggressive toward you, they have set up the frame of aggression. If you respond with aggression, you are falling into their trap. Instead, you need to respond with compassion. Compassion is based on the understanding that the other person is not separate from you, and wants to be happy just like you.


  4. Tim Bridge says:

    Hey Dale,
    Thanks for the response. The emotion I was trying to portray as a good method to dissolve potential conflicts was not reciprocated aggression or adopting a degraded view of a person. It is more about being completely passive. Perhaps I will write another article in the future to clarify this goal. You make an interesting point and perhaps compassion as your “go-to” emotion would serve as an even better way to avoid explosive conversations. I will look more into this and see what turns up. Thanks for your insight and I hope to see you around again!


  5. […] Positive Passivity – An ideal way to silence a potential naysayer is to merely shrug it off. Be positively passive. If someone is trying to shoot you down, you have no obligation to listen to them. Be aware of the potential for an explosive conversation and how to handle one. […]

Leave a Reply