If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. Chinese proverb
We humans have been programmed for centuries for fight, flight or freeze. While that might have saved our ancestors from the woolly mammoth, it is overkill in discussions with family, friends or neighbors. So it happened again. What started out as a reasonable discussion, turned into a shouting match.
One way to change gears is to say something like, “I want to talk with you, but not like this.” You might add, “Why don’t we take a break and meet again later?” Here are four steps to return to a more productive conversation.
1. Distract yourself then do some self reflection.
If you use the break time to hone your arguments, create scathing comebacks, rehash your point of view with your best friend, or further convince yourself you are right, you will end up exactly where you left off. Instead, distract yourself with a video game, a crossword puzzle or something else that takes your mind off the argument. Then do some self reflection.
2. De-escalate yourself.
Have you allowed the other person to push your buttons? Do you like how you responded? What would you like to say and do differently? What do you need? Have you made your request clear and in a way the other can hear? What is your intention? Are you trying to prove the other person wrong? If so, how can you say what you need in a way the other can hear?
Have you been listening to the same argument over and over again? Most likely the other person hasn’t felt heard. Acknowledging what someone says doesn’t mean that you agree, just that you understand. When you return to the conversation a good opener is something like, “It sounds like you want __, have I heard you correctly?”
Let your voice and body language express an attitude of curiosity. Uncross your legs & arms. Relax. Remember woolly mammoths are extinct. It is safe to put your spear down. Think about what you like or admire about the other person.
4. Turn complaints into requests.
What would like the other person to say or do? For example, turn “I hate it that you always leave the car on empty,” to “You are welcome to use the car. Will you agree to return it with a full tank?” “Do I have your commitment on that?”
Improving communication helps us understand and be understood. It gets us more of what we want, with fewer hard feelings and less drama. It improves relationships and makes them stronger. If you have trouble doing this on your own, get some help. A religious leader, family member, therapist or mediator can help keep you on track.