The essence of this article was originally posted a couple of years ago for an entirely different purpose. Now, in light of the pandemic occupying all of our thoughts, I think it’s become relevant once again.
We’re all nervous and impatient these days, carrying excess burdens which aren’t of our own choosing. So our tempers flare and we find ourselves arguing about everything. As I am sure you can imagine, tempers often flare during mediation and dealing with emotions is a large part of what I do. I have had years of training and experience, yet highly emotional situations can still be challenging, especially the current challenge of being faced with a potential health issue that is largely beyond our control. I find myself singing Taylor Swift’s lyrics in my head, “you need to calm down.” So, while I’m singing to myself, I’d like to offer you a few tips on how you, yourself, can calm down during a highly emotional conversation. I understand that it’s a lot to expect of you when you’re in the heat of the moment. It takes a great deal of practice, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Tip #1: Pay attention.
Tip #2: Be respectful.
Tip #3: Have empathy.
Okay, let’s break these down into bite-sized pieces, and by bite-sized, I mean two powerful statements corresponding to each of these three tips.
WHAT TO SAY TO SHOW YOU’RE PAYING ATTENTION:
I want to know what’s going on.
I will listen carefully.
WHAT TO SAY TO BE RESPECTFUL:
I acknowledge that you feel strongly about your position.
I believe that you are sincerely trying to resolve the problem.
WHAT TO SAY TO SHOW EMPATHY:
I understand that you’re frustrated.
I would like to work together to solve this.
Obviously, it’s easier to remain calm when you haven’t a stake in the outcome of the argument. When you’re in the thick of it, the natural tendency is to tune the other person out so that you can think about what you’re going to say next. And what you say next is likely to be accusatory and/or exaggerated. “You make me furious!” “You always jump to the wrong conclusions.”
I’m sure you already know this, but starting your sentences with “you” won’t help you arrive at a solution. And if you add in a “never” or an “always,” I hate to tell you this, but you’re probably going to be wrong. Instead, start your sentences with “I” as demonstrated above. And eliminate “never” and “always” from your vocabulary, unless it’s an absolute (“Sunday always follows Saturday” or “The Courthouse is never open on Christmas.”)
Two small adjustments — starting your sentence with “I” instead of “you” and eliminating “never” and “always” from statements you make in anger — will have a significant impact in calming down an emotional conversation.
If you’re already practicing these tips, let me know how they’re working. Or, brew a cup of chamomile tea, take five deep breaths, and focus on what’s really important.