You know how it goes. You set out to have a calm conversation with your teenager or your partner and, before you know it, you’re both yelling like banshees or retreating in sullen, angry silence to your respective corners. You’re either fighting or fleeing. The following communication tips will help you stay cool when things heat up during important conversations:
When we humans get upset, our pulse and breath quicken, the blood rushes to our core, and we are ready to either flee our enemy or stand and fight. This was a really great asset when we lived in caves and wild animal attacks could be a daily occurrence. Neither of these responses is helpful, however, in a situation that calls for calm speaking, attentive listening and compromise. So the first antidote for a plunge into fight or flight mode is slow, deep breathing.
We are naturally calmer when we sit but, even more helpful, we seem calmer and less aggressive to others when we are seated because we remain at their level and are prevented from pacing or moving into their space. We also can’t flail our arms as much, which, if you think about it, makes us look kind of scary.
Set aside your own agenda while the other person is speaking, and try to simply listen. This is much harder than it sounds. To really listen you have to turn off that pesky critical running commentary in your head, the one that thinks of corrections or comebacks for each point the other person presents, and is just dying to get a word in edgewise. There will be time for your speaking later. For now . . . sit down, shut up and listen.
Then, Finally, Speak
Tell your story, your version of the event, calmly and clearly. And, yes, I am going to suggest that you use I statements. But not one of the many have-your-blame-and-eat-it-too versions of the I statement, like “I feel you should” or “I think you are.” When you really analyze them, you see that these statements are actually just sneaky ways to say “You should” or “You are.” These, then, are actually “you statements,” which are a big no-no in a difficult or heated conversation because they tend to make people want to hit you.
Communicating clearly and respectfully when we’re upset is hard work, and it’s easy to let our emotions overwhelm us and send us into that mode in which we feel our only options are to fight or flee. But it is next to impossible to live in this mode while also staying in relationship with the important people in our lives.
So, the next time you feel your emotions pushing you over the edge, remember to breathe, sit, listen and, only then, speak. If you can progress through these communication tips in this order, you and your relationship will live to
fight communicate another day.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know how these ideas work for you, or share your own communication tips in a comment below.