Nothing tells you more about yourself — your true self — than how you react when someone starts yelling at you. When someone breaks the fragile social rules that you’ve built your happy little ship upon, feelings tend to beat out common sense and we react differently than how we might like to (or how our mothers taught us to). But these often-regrettable reactions vary dramatically with personality; some people regret that they started shouting back while others regret not standing up for themselves more. I’ve observed that there are four major reactions that people have when being verbally attacked: matching, pacifying, avoiding or volatile.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most widely used and recognized personality test in the world, initially created for the purpose of helping people understand each other better and thereby reduce conflict. Once you know your MBTI, you can check the list below and see if you agree with your category. (Note: these are not official MBTI categories, just my own observations).
FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE (MATCH)
You take what’s fair and give back what’s fair, no more and no less. You’ll fight back when provoked, you may become a little competitive, but you won’t lose yourself to your emotions. When someone starts throwing fire, a matcher might say:
- You want to throw fire at me? Go ahead. I’ve got a box of matches just for you and I’ve got all day.
- Yes, I see your perspective, but what you don’t understand is that I’m waaaay smarter than you on this particular subject. You’re just making yourself look bad.
- There were so many other ways to go about this conversation without the stupid flamethrower, man. Seriously? Why do you have to be so difficult?
- I know I know, you’re feeling a little heated. But you have to admit I’m right here. I mean, what you’re saying makes literally no sense. Just say it. I’m right. Not you, me. I’m right, you’re wrong, say it.
FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE EXTINGUISHER (PACIFY)
You’re the type that would sing a bear a lullaby while it’s trying to bite off your legs. You care more about resolving the conflict than you do about “winning”, and you can handle a lot of heat from others without becoming angry. When someone starts throwing fire, a pacifier might say:
- Hmmm, you must have mistaken me for a wooden log just now. That’s all right. You’ve had a rough day, haven’t you? Let’s see what I can do to help.
- Now you said you wanted to light me on fire because I didn’t deliver the acorns the way you wanted, but if you reread our emails you’ll see that I delivered them the way we had previously agreed…
- Okay, but why do you want to set me on fire? Is it worth your time? What are you getting out of it?
- I’d like to get around this, but I can’t talk to you when you’re holding that burning torch. Let’s just set it down gently… there ya go. Here are a few ways to actually solve the problem.
DON’T FIGHT FIRE (AVOID)
When a situation escalates, you tend to freeze up. You feel unprepared to deal with the heat that’s being thrown at you, so you either clam up or look for distractions. When someone starts throwing fire, an avoider might say:
- I mean, you probably had a pretty good reason for wanting to set me on fire, and you seem to be enjoying yourself now so I’ll just let you do you.
- Okay but did you see that video of the baby trying a lemon for the first time? No, you can keep yelling if you’d like, I just thought I’d send you the link while you yell.
- Mmhmm… right… mmm… yeah… totally….
FIGHT FIRE WITH ATOMIC BOMB (VOLATILE)
Your management of another person’s anger is unpredictable. You can sit and take it 99% of the time, but every once in a while something becomes too much. And when an attacker pushes you past that threshold, you tend to pay them back with interest. When attacked with fire, someone in this category might say:
- You are wasting my time. And that’s a completely inefficient way to burn someone to dust. Here, let me show you how to do it properly.
- Hmm. That hurt just a little bit. I was going to own up to my part in this problem, but you took it a liiiittle too far. So now I’m going to incinerate you and laugh as you burn.
- Haha yes what a funny little situation here. Pretty mad at me, aren’t you? Well let me see what I can — woah, did you just call my dog ugly? My dog is not ugly. My dog is the most precious — oh NOW YOU’VE DONE IT. Someone hand me my C4.
- Yes, I understand… Yes, I’m so sorry about that… I apologize… I’m sorry you feel that way… I’m sor- OKAY F*** that COME AT ME BRO!
Hopefully you aren’t having to deal with difficult clients too often. But if you are, it’s important to remember that there are pros and cons to each category, so try not to beat yourself up for how you handle fire. Click here to take the MBTI test if you haven’t already.