‘Bar Rescue’ Star Jon Taffer Reveals How To Resolve Conflicts In Exclusive Book Excerpt

In Taffer’s new book “The Power of Conflict”, the “Bar Rescue” star shows how to speak your mind while getting the results you want.

(Jon Taffer/The Power of Conflict)

I’ve spent the last 30-plus years helping businesses reach their full potential, and on television I’ve helped over 200 bars.  During all these experiences, I learned how constructive and often life-changing conflict can be. People often don’t think of conflict as a positive, that’s why felt a book on the topic could really help people navigate difficult conversations as a tool. 

My new book The Power of Conflict provides readers with a roadmap to argue smarter, uphold their values, keep the conversation real, and arm them with the skills and confidence to fight for their principles. Almost as important, change the approach of those who engage in purposeless conflict that alienates people with different views. 

Nowadays, certainly on social media, people either aggressively project their viewpoints or are too scared to express them. I hope the readers of Maxim enjoy the exclusive excerpt below to illustrate my approach in the book–it’s my take on two intense confrontations from Bar Rescue and how I used my emotions and behavior strategically to help find resolution for these conflicts.

If you’d like to hear more, grab a copy of my book, and check out Maxim’s exclusive excerpt below.

Jack’s Fire Department, a bar owned and operated by three brothers was going down in flames. Brian, Jimmy, and John had inherited the bar from their father, but they couldn’t stop fighting over how to run the business. I had to knock their heads together, but Jimmy wasn’t taking too kindly to my suggestions.

Jimmy was the source of many of the problems because of his violent temper, and you cannot bring that kind of energy into a place of business. When I did my test run of the bar, filling it with a thirsty crowd to diagnose the operational challenges, it wasn’t going well, and Jimmy started acting out. I’d had enough.

The only way to reach hotheads like that is to get loud. I charged in like a bull. Jimmy was a big guy. I knew he could take me if he wanted to, but not when I was already right on him like that. I was inches from his face; we were spitting all over each other as we screamed.

I could tell he was getting ready to hit me, but I had the advantage because I knew how things would play out. His pupils were large so I moved in closer, gave his wrists a couple of squeezes, and watched his pupils go down. He stepped away from me.

“You couldn’t pull it off, so you curse at your wife, and you drink!” I told him. “You’re failing because you’re an asshole!”

His brothers kicked him out, but Jimmy wasn’t done. He came back in through the rear door and spat a mouthful of whiskey in the face of his older sibling then walked out again. The next day, we sat Jimmy down and set him straight. The previous intense confrontation broke him wide open, and he was more prepared to listen.

There is a time and a place for escalating the conflict. There’s a flow to the discussion and, as it intensifies, you have a choice: to go there and raise it to the level of yelling, or to step out. In a positive, constructive conflict, either one of those decisions may be appropriate. But you can size up the situation and decide how far to take it.

Some techniques for powering your voice and body language in conflict include:

  • Watching the dilation of eyes. As the pupils get smaller, your adversary is being less emotional and reactionary. It’s in that moment of calm you are more likely to be heard. 
  • Checking the rest of the body language. If they are standing with their arms folded, for example, they’re tensed up and shutting down. Facial signs of rising anger include a clenched jaw, furrowed brow, and a flushing of the skin and intensely focused eye contact.
  • Reengaging. When my adversary is trying to put up an emotional wall, I bring my voice down, lean in, and get them to drop their arms with a touch on the hand or the shoulder to release the tension. Then I go in for another hit. Think of it as a sparring match.

This is about using your emotions strategically. It won’t matter one bit that you have done your homework or made your cost-benefit calculation if you let your emotions rule over your head. Conflict driven by pure emotion is doomed to failure.

When I’m taping my shows, smashing poorly made cocktails and plates of inedible food onto the floor, I am not actually in a state of rage. In that moment I am being sincere, because I care about the small businesses I am trying to res- cue, and yelling is part of an overall strategy.

Within the yelling, there are subtle gradations of volume and tone. Watch me on Bar Rescue enough times and you’ll notice my method. I’m engaged in constant self-talk as I monitor the reactions of bar owners and staff.

Despite the twists and turns, I am moving through a process, making deductive points, and pushing the owners as far as they can go before pulling them back in. It’s a constant push-me pull-me of affirmations and challenges to break them down. My volume plays a critical role from beginning to end, but context and purpose are critical not just to when I yell, but how I yell.

Take, for example, the Lucky 66 bowling alley and bar I rescued in the Season Seven episode “Gutterball!” Owner Mike Draper was an asshole. Turnover was so high, he couldn’t keep bar staff for more than a couple of months. Mike was obnoxious not just to his staff, but the customers!

He owed $1 million on the place and was losing another $10,000 to $15,000 a month as more and more customers left.

While Lucky 66 was popular enough in the early years, profits started drying up. Mike hadn’t done much to enhance its curb appeal but the real problem was his attitude.

“I don’t share the philosophy that the customer is always right,” he informed my producers.

I’d sent over three young people to do recon for me. First, he ignored their requests for water. Then, after two rounds of shots, he tried to cut them off, asking  one of the young men how much he weighed. Mike was not only rude, he was physically threatening. 

It was time to really get under Mike’s skin, so I came in with all guns blazing. I was incredulous that a bar owner who was bleeding cash would have the audacity to treat new customers this way. So I yelled with a blend of anger and disgust in my tone as I challenged him.

“Do they appear intoxicated to you?” I asked Mike, not bothering to wait for the answer. “How would you feel if I put my hand on your shoulder like you did to him and pretty much said, ‘I don’t like you and I want you to leave here because I said so’?”

“I guess I’d be upset,” Mike mumbled.

“Because the person who did that to you would be an ass!” I shouted. “Why were you an ass to him, Mike?”

Then I called in the whole team and asked, “Jay, simple question. Does your father act like an ass, or is he an ass?”

“He’s an asshole,” Jay said, still angry about the way his father had treated his daughter a month earlier. 

“How does that feel, Mike? How much are you in debt, Mike?” I asked, injecting some real venom into my voice.

As I was yelling, I was observing how Mike was receiving what I had to say. At first, he could barely hold his head up to look me in the eye. But the more I threw those loud verbal punches, the straighter he stood like he knew it was for his own good. It was as if he were back in the army, taking orders so I pushed him further.

“Are you disrespectful to people?” I asked him. “I am disrespectful.”

“So an ass who is disrespectful to people. Does that type of person deserve to make money?”


“There is a god after all!” I exclaimed, then turned to face the rest of the room. “Mike got exactly what he deserved, didn’t he? A million dollars in debt and a family who doesn’t even believe in him!”

My whole purpose in behaving that way toward Mike was to get his attention and respect. Yes, calling someone an asshole in front of his whole family and staff was personal. But I was attacking his behavior—the way he was treating others.

I knew there had to be more to him than what I was seeing on the surveillance camera. Mike was a Vietnam veteran. I needed to communicate with him in a way that he could not just dismiss. As he said later, “Nobody’s yelled at me like that since I was in the army. I was put in my place!” It was exactly what Mike needed in that moment to wake up.

The next day, Mike was the model of humility. My method worked because he’d finally encountered someone who could call him on his BS and deep down he knew I was bawling him out for his own good.

I have so much respect for people who served in the military, and I understood that having fought in a war, Mike was probably dealing with some trauma that made him respond to stressful situations differently than most. He didn’t know how to reach out and ask for help. But the result was that he’d become so negative, bitter, and unlikeable that no one was rooting for him.

Mike was beginning to grasp this fact, so I turned down the volume. But I still wasn’t done. I brought in Daphne, his estranged granddaughter, to join Jay and the rest of the team, and gently made him face her. It was already clear to me that this young lady had his heart, and that being at odds with her had just about broken him.

“This is your granddaughter. Good or bad, she’s been trying. What do you have to say to her?”

“Sorry . . .”

“What else? You can’t do this alone. Do you get that? The two people best equipped to help you are your son and granddaughter. Tell them!”

Mike finally admitted there was no point in owning a successful business if those he loved weren’t a part of it. 

The rest of the rescue was easy. Within twenty-four hours Mike was all smiles as he greeted his customers, and he kept up the positive attitude even as things went wrong during my stress test.

The face-lift we gave to the bar, the training we gave to the staff, and the necessary technology upgrades put the establishment on a path to success. But the most important feature of this rescue was the upgrade to Mike’s outlook and behavior toward others. 

In every Bar Rescue episode, I’m fighting for the owner’s and/or employees, lives and businesses. When I yell, and how I yell, is strategic. The more you listen, the more you will notice that there are subtle variations depending on the circumstances and the person on the other side of the confrontation.

Again, I am not angry at them but I am passionate about helping these folks. Communicating effectively while maintaining an emotionally engaged, not angry persona is the most critical and difficult element to successful conflict. The moment emotions become angry, meaningful conflict becomes conflict without purpose which comes with a high price and little chance for a meaningful result.

Taffer Toolkit Takeaways

  1. Be the master of your emotions. Yelling should never be the product of actual rage. Do it for effect, all the while checking for the physiological reactions of your adversary so they neither explode nor shut down.
  2. Understand the difference between passion and anger. Yes, there should be sincere emotion behind the yelling. But, when passion gets overtaken by anger, your adversaries will revel in your rage, because they can see they’ve gotten under your skin. Always be in control of the exchange, no matter how emotional it gets.
  3. Manage the reactions of others. This is all about getting your message across with impact. Control the volume and tone of your voice according to how your points are landing. Manipulate through the power of voice.
  4. Mix up the recipe. Yelling should be combined with more subtle tricks that you can apply using your voice and physical presence when you are in a verbal altercation, from connection tools like eye contact, to physical proximity.
  5. Know when to switch it off. There is nothing to be gained by continuing to yell after you’ve made your point. Once the engagement is over, you are done!

From The Power of Conflict by Jon Taffer. Copyright © 2022 by Jon Taffer. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.