As I am sure you can imagine, tempers often flare during mediation and dealing with emotions is a large part of what I do.
For example, last year I worked with a divorcing couple who had three teenagers. According to “Jessica,” her husband had a drinking problem. “Jeremy” admitted that he had a tendency to become short-tempered with the kids when he’d had a few beers. And then there was “Jeanette,” who confronted “Jason” in my office with a profanity-laced tirade complete with undeniable evidence that he brought a prostitute into their house while Jeanette was away on a business trip. First, Jason was belligerently defensive, then ashamed.
In spite of years of training and experience, handling the heightened emotions of my clients can still be challenging for me. That being said, I’m going to offer you a few tips on how you, yourself, can calm a highly emotional situation. And I understand that it’s a lot to expect of you when you’re in the heat of the moment. Maybe you can practice these three tips when refereeing your kids or your co-workers before you actually step into the central vent of your own volcano.
Tip #1: Pay attention. Here are two statements to show you’re paying attention: “I want to know what’s going on.” “I am listening carefully.”
Tip #2: Be respectful. Here are two statements to show your respect: “I acknowledge that you feel strongly about your position.” “I can see that you are sincerely trying to resolve the problem.”
Tip #3: Have empathy. Here are two statements to show empathy: “I understand that you’re frustrated.” “I would like to work together to solve this problem.”
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, and at a greater volume than your normal tone. “You make me furious!” “You always jump to the wrong conclusions.”
I’ll give you a moment to figure out what’s wrong here. Hint: it’s pretty basic and you probably already know the answer.
Starting your sentences with “you” won’t help you arrive at a solution. Add in a “never” or an “always,” and I hate to tell you, but you’re more often wrong than right. 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.
One final gem to take away: telling someone to calm down will always create an adverse response and will never lead to a solution.
(See what I just did there?)