So are you going to continue to watch silently, swallowing your principles as your disappointment in the way life is going eats away at your soul? Or will you join me on these next pages as we build up our conflict muscles to righteously step up and speak out?
You don't have to go full tilt as I sometimes do on my show. Sometimes the right decision is to not engage when you don't find a worthy opponent. Sometimes all it takes to speak your conscience is a calm, even tone bolstered by a set of irrefutable facts. There is a method to match any battle you may be facing.
In the following chapters, I will lay out my approach for mastering a strategic response to conflict—how to act affirmatively rather than react disproportionately. To leverage conflict deliberately, constructively, and productively, I argue that you need to assess the situation before acting upon it. Expect an array of strategies, as well as more granular techniques, like looking into the eyes of the person on the other side of the confrontation for the dilation of pupils, a tell-tale sign for exactly when to step into their space to land your point. Or when to say something encouraging or conciliatory, with a hand gently pressing on the shoulder, so that the person on the other side of the conflict will be taken off guard and more inclined to listen. I promise, you don't have to be a cigar-chomping loudmouth like me to be effective at conflict. These tools are accessible to anyone!
My aim is to build up your confidence step-by-step, so that boldly fighting for your principles will always be an option when that moment comes for you to face down the mob of one, or a thousand. So the next time someone tries to block, demean, or dismiss you, think about the stakes. But first, study the methods I will share with you on these next pages to make your case, hold your ground, and get the results you want. Because what you stand for matters. Your principles are always worth the fight.
THE CASE FOR CONFLICT
Why constructive engagement is good for you.
One of the most explosive confrontations I experienced in my career happened while taping the third episode of the first season of my show Bar Rescue, and it came out of nowhere. The declining bar in question was an Irish pub called the Abbey, in Chicago. During a key moment on camera where I introduced myself to the entire bar staff and owner, offering them advice and letting them know what the stakes were if they failed to improve their performance, an executive of the network I'd never before met decided to insert himself.
This gentleman, whom we'll call "Joe," stepped right in front of me, stopped the cameras, and started giving direction to the Abbey's crew.
"You, over there, I want you to look angry," he told one of the bartenders who had the misfortune to make eye contact with him. "And you, you're boring me! Start reacting. I wanna see tears!" he shouted at a waitress, insulting the poor woman to make her cry.
As I watched this aggressive and uncalled-for interference unfold, I could feel my temperature rising, so I removed myself from the scene to quietly process what was happening and formulate an appropriate response. I walked out of the bar and across the street to the building where the crew and monitors were, with Joe following close behind me. I said nothing as he continued talking, throwing out orders at me, one of which was the suggestion that I take a tampon, cover it in ketchup, and plant it on the bathroom floor of the bar.
By then I'd had enough, so I spun around to face him. "Are you telling me to be a liar on camera?"
"Jon, I'm just telling you how to make it a better show."
"Oh really? And is that why you interrupted and undermined me in front of people who need to respect me if they're going to heed my advice for the rest of filming? What kind of an idiot does that?"
Now, I was a newbie to the world of reality show production. We had a crew of fifty people running around, showrunners, producers...a lot of folks who knew more than I did. I was in awe of the process, and excited by the prospect of filming my first ten-episode season. But the one thing I told the producers from the beginning was that we had to be authentic. I knew other reality shows were scripted, but I wasn't impressed by that fact. This was about me maintaining my values rather than working for the network. Others might be okay with flipping over tables and manufacturing arguments for the sake of being on TV, but I'd already made my money. I was in this to educate bar owners and hopefully make an entertaining TV show, not sell myself out or humiliate the folks I was there to help.