We can often find ourselves involved in a difficult conversation with a boss, colleague or family member. It can be incredibly easy to become agitated or angry and lose our cool.
When a difficult conversation progresses in a direction we don’t want to go, we are often not open to what is being said. If it feels like we are being attacked, our natural reaction is to want to counterattack. However, that is definitely not productive and can result in making the situation escalate.
Even when we have opposing viewpoints to somebody, we can usually find some common ground. This can help us avoid arguing. Finding a connection during difficult conversations allows us to remember that at our core, we usually want the same things. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Are you considering the other person’s point of view? What’s really driving them? Frequently, there are many emotions based on personal experiences. If you can discuss what emotions or experiences are driving somebody’s political views, you can possibly find a connection with them – even some common ground. By sharing your own experiences, it will create a connection between you.
Speaking about these experiences during challenging conversations can help you both develop a caring stance and avoid arguing.
Alison Stockton is a Trauma-Informed Functional Medicine Practitioner and Eating Psychology Coach.
Alison believes ‘We all have conversations that can get heated. Either in person, on the phone or via zoom these days.
There will be times when we walk away and wonder why it got so tense. Why did I get so triggered, why couldn’t I keep my calm and why were they so angry We have all experienced such conversations in some way or another.
What can we do in the future? Often our reactions are out of fear, frustration or a trauma response. We can become highly agitated by another person’s tonality and volume. It may create dysregulation in our own body. (sympathetic nervous system).
These are suggestions to practise:
Be intentional without being disrespectful, if someone is trying to outrank you (eg work situation) continue with your intentions with grace.
When someone is raising their volume and their tone is becoming less than appealing – press pause in your own mind – listen – breath – slow breaths in through the nose out through the mouth (not breaths of dragon fire, just calm relaxed breaths) practice simple breathwork daily to support your nervous system.
Keep eye contact, stay in focus, a roll of the eyes, a huff and a disconnected attitude when heated can make things escalate.
Say to them, I hear you, I hear what you are saying. A response of compassion can soothe. If the other person is going offline, they won’t be able to calm down easily if you mirror their reactions. Respond rather than react. Reactions can be knee-jerk, aggressive and insulting.
Ask for a pause – a physical one this time – explain that right now, you need some space and some air. You understand that the conversation isn’t over. However, if you both take a few minutes away, to breathe, to regulate then you will both be able to respond more calmly.
When emotions are high – intelligence lowers, this is emotional intelligence but if someone reacts aggressively and raises volume they may be reacting from a traumatized space, so time to quiet the physical and emotional body is crucial.
Everything you can do, do safely. If someone refuses to allow you space or to leave and continues to shout, you can try to again say safely, I know that this is important to you, but whilst you are shouting and stressed I feel I can not be fully attentive to your questions.
Empathise with the other but don’t give pity or unwarranted sympathy. If it is not genuine, this will make things more heated. If you don’t understand the conversation, saying that you are trying to understand is far less triggering than saying I understand and the person feels patronised.
Speak your truth, you have permission to speak freely, again ensure it is a safe space to do so.
Nervous system regulation is very important, especially in emotional intelligence, that’s why breathwork practice and meditation daily will help in future situations such as these
Your posture matters too, if you begin to slump, fold arms, become disinterested this can raise tension from others, so in a heated situation, be authentically engaged to moderate tension
Get clarity on why they are becoming so upset. Ask ‘why are you upset with me?’ Then you will be able to respond. If it’s made clear it is not you then you can share empathetically about why are they giving this situation/ conversation so much time and energy.
Always remember to prioritise safety first. If you are safe to speak freely, with compassion and enquiry then do so. If you feel unsafe, triggered, agitated and struggling to regulate, find the safest way to remove yourself from the situation.
When you leave a heated situation it is really important to regulate and ground yourself, this will support you in avoiding any emotional self-sabotage “oh I need a drink” “ or oh I need chocolate.”
When you walk away it’s important to let it go, just like a zebra running free after a hunt from a tiger – they shake it off, breathe and carry on whilst regulating their parasympathetic nervous system.’
Alison Stockton website: