There are several methods by which you can counter an opening statement designed to create immediate conflict. In most cases, you can effectively re-direct the conversation to avoid the initial conflict starter, but there are occassions when avoiding conflict is impossible.
If someone begins a conversation with a conflict starter, one of the most effective counter moves is to say something like, "Let me see if I can re-state your concern to make sure I understand it thoroughly and then address it to your satisfaction." By countering your antagonist with a restatement of his or her conflict starter, you accomplish two important goals: 1) your restatement allows you to soften the conflict-starter with a reasonable interpretation of the person's concern but in more neutral terms and 2) a reasonable restatement will almost immediately diffuse the conflict-starter and allow a discussion, rather than an argument, to follow.
Most conflict-starter statements are designed to put you on the defensive, but by your reasonable and thoughtful restatement of the issue--in more neutral terms--you will almost always put your aggressor in a more conciliatory mood, and a true discussion can then begin. In many cases, people begin a discussion with a conflict starter because they believe your response is going to be equally argumentative. By restating the argument in more neutral terms, however, the conflict is then set forth in terms in which a resolution is possible.
I respectfully propose an alternative answer to the previous post. A conflict starter statement is often brought up after a combination of factors are combined: the background of the conflict, the evidence to support that there is a problem, and the temperament of the person bringing it up.
Rather than defusing a situation one must face it, head on. If we deflect a problem, then we will never solve it. However, why not take the initiative to get to the root of what is really causing the person to come up with a conflict starter statement? The key words here are: charisma, intelligence (acquisition of information) and, even, humor.
Here are some conflict resolution techniques. They are NOT simple steps to take but, with experience, you will learn to do them.
1. Maintain your composure- The persons who bring up these kinds of statements probably want to shift their own personal frustrations onto external conflicts. These are people who cannot solve their own problems, so they look for ways to start new ones by using other people, vicariously. That, or they may just be passive-aggressive personality disorder sufferers. The best course of action to take is to keep a very neutral poise to show them that the comment is NOT in control of the situation, but YOU are.
2. Juxtapose the statement- If this comment is made by a person who enjoys to argue, repeat the statement back to the person the way that you understand it, and ask the person directly (and openly) what is prompting he or she to make the statement. This way, the persons making the statement will compare your thoughts and theirs. This takes away a lot of energy from the statement, and sends the responsibility back to whomever stated it, making them realize how silly it is to start an argument that cannot be backed with evidence in the first place.
3. Always ask for evidence- If there is an accusation, a complaint, or a suggestion for a "change", be sure to ask for evidence that shows that these changes should be actually conducted. For example, if a parent says that a teacher is "bad", then ask for evidence to support that. If the confrontational person cannot come up with evidence, then (respectfully) give the person enough time to come up with it. After all, what can you do without the evidence to support a change in action?
3. Smile...with honesty- You will have to meta-cognitively process the fact that a statement is just a "mind-burp", that is, a by-product of a series of thoughts that have led to one , specific, (and sometimes erroneous) conclusion. Hence, do not take everything that you hear too seriously. After all,thoughts are sifted through brains that may, or may not, be working properly. Do what psychiatrists do: listen, wonder, giggle, and then fix the situation with humor, charisma, and intelligence.
However, do not defuse the situation. Do not ignore anything people tell you. There is a wealth of information within every statement that people make. Just do not take things personally and make the resolution to do your best, as long as there is enough information to prove that you are correct!
The best thing for a person to do when confronted with such a statement is to defuse it. They must by all means avoid escalating the conflict through inflammatory statements of their own.
What the person should do is to remove the focus from the personal issues at hand. Instead, they should do what negotiators are told to do. They should focus on the problem, not on the person. Therefore, instead of focusing on the emotion that was conveyed by the conflict starter statement, they should focus on the issue at hand. For example, imagine that someone says "Why did you do that -- you always do that just to annoy me!" At that point, the recipient of the statement must focus on what was done, not the emotion in the statement. They should focus on what they have done that annoyed the person and how it can be fixed, not on the fact that the person has attacked them personally.