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How to Handle Conflict in 30 Seconds with the "Bounceback"

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

In the midst of ministry, we need not be treated like doormats. After decades as a people pleaser, I no longer make excuses for rude behavior. I recently learned the art of sticking up for myself, and now I can't believe how easy it is. You don't have to feel angry toward injustice, but you do have to deal with it. I call this technique the "Bounceback."

The Bounceback Technique

1. Recognize it

The moment someone attacks you in any way (directly or passive-aggressively), the important first step is to recognize that you're being attacked. You'll initially feel a sense of surprise: "something isn't right here" or "that was a weird thing for them to say." You might feel a pit in your stomach. Your heart may begin racing. You'll probably find it hard to think straight. You are triggered and officially in the center of a "conflict moment." Say to yourself: "It's okay. I know what to do. It's time to implement the bounceback."

2: Listen and watch

You now know that you're being attacked, but you probably missed the specifics of that first violation while your brain was recognizing the attack. They're likely to do something else, so watch and listen carefully. You don't have to catch every violation; one is enough. Listen to their word choice, notice their volume, and watch their body language. Did you spot one? Now you're ready.

3. Call it out

The core of the bounceback is this fundamental step: Calmly call out what you just observed, as in "I just shared an idea with you and you rolled your eyes." "I notice you're raising your voice and pointing at me." "You just said 'I would never have done that.'" "You just laughed at me."

4. Wait

Believe it or not, that may be the only thing you need to say. The focus is no longer on you scrambling to defend yourself against an unjustified attack in a triggered state of mind, but it's back on them and their behavior. They can’t argue with the facts that just happened, so they typically acknowledge what they've done, apologize, and even share what's really behind their behavior.

What they rarely do is act rudely to you again. In a single bounceback, you’ve taught them how to treat you. You’ve established your minimum bar. They know that any future rudeness will likely bounce back to them. And hearing yourself be rude is just, well, embarrassing. Even if they don't apologize, they've felt the sting of their own words, which will impact future behavior.

5. Move on

Whether they apologize or not, you’ve said your peace and you no longer carry this. Forgive them and move on. Most people are well-intentioned and may simply not realize the impact of their behavior. Knowing that you've stood up for yourself will provide great peace of mind and reduce your stewing.

6. Give yourself a high five

That was hard. It took courage to be direct. The easier thing would have been to say nothing and privately stew about it. No matter how well you pulled it off, applaud yourself for trying. Be patient with yourself as you retrain your brain. Any step toward this technique is a win.


  • Move fast: Don't wait too long. Waiting weeks suggests that you've been stewing, which reduces your credibility. Waiting also opens the door for them to say, "I don't remember it that way." If too much time has passed, it's often better to simply use the bounceback on a future incident.

  • Stick to the facts: Don't add commentary. If you say, "That was rude," for example, they can reply: "Well, that's your opinion." And they're right. Stay away from opinion. Stick to objective, observable behavior: word choice, volume, and body language.

  • Let them get “off stage”: If you're in a large group, and your bounceback will publicly shame the other person, wait until immediately after the meeting and pull the person aside. In rare situations, you may need to do a bounceback in the middle of the meeting, such as when you observe bullying. I've had to do this on stage at a conference when my co-panelist verbally attacked somebody in the room. 

  • Escalate if needed: What if the person continues their behavior? At that point, I calmly explain my minimum bar: "My expectation is that you will speak to me respectfully." And if that doesn't work? I say: "You're still speaking disrespectfully, so I have to end this conversation."

In ministry, we will face accidental rudeness, manipulation, and even attack. To be effective, we need to simultaneously minister AND deal with these situations. Learning how to deal with conflict calmly, confidently, and gracefully is critical for the success of our ministry. Of course, we are never alone during these difficult moments. If we are courageous enough to lean on God and face conflict directly, He will supply the courage we need. "He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength" (Isaiah 40:29).

Call to Action

The next time someone is rude to you, calm yourself and immediately name the behavior you witnessed. Wait for them to respond.

This post was republished by Grit & Virtue Magazine in Summer 2020. Read it here.


About Sue Warnke

Sue is the Senior Director of Content & Communications Experience at Salesforce and the President of Faithforce San Francisco, Salesforce's interfaith Employee Resource Group, and Christians at Salesforce. This post is adapted from Play #12 ("Practice the Bounceback") in “Being a Christian in the Real World: A Playbook.”

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