It’s inevitable that a conversation will suddenly turn heated. In that heated moment, we lose the very part of our brains we need the most to think rationally and intentionally. Yet how we choose to respond in any given moment can make or break a relationship.
Before you say something you might later regret, first remember that we can calm our immediate emotional response in an instant.
Here are 4 simple (not necessarily easy) yet powerful ways to stay calm during conflict:
1. Pause and notice.
During the conversation, notice what you’re feeling when things start to get heated. You might feel a sudden urge to yell, insult, defend yourself, or run away. At the same time, you might notice a heated flush in your face as anger rises, pressure in your chest, or your heart beating faster.
2. Breathe and Count.
This is the time to take that beat to breathe. You might breathe in and count slowly to 4, then breathe out as you count slowly to 6. Repeat until you can think clearly.
Before we can think clearly and rationally, we have to calm the brain’s “fight-or-flight” reaction. Each time we succeed in calming our emotional reactions, we increase our strength for the next time.
3. What do you really want?
Get clear on what you really want by asking yourself “what do I want for myself, the other person, and the relationship?” According to Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, “I can see I’m pushing to prove my idea is better and I should win. What I really want is to come to an agreement that works for both of us.” Or “what I really want is to express my real concerns and not come across as too demanding.”
Basically, it’s about taking the attention off of our egos and on what we really want for this relationship. To find out more, check out this post.
4. It Takes Practice
What I’ve realized is this: like building muscle by regular workouts, it takes regular practice to strengthen the ability to control our emotions.
Taking even just 10 minutes during the day for meditation can be extremely effective in gaining control over your thoughts and emotions. This article can help you find what might work best for you. You might also try this app by Sam Harris. It offers a 28-day meditation course with complementary content with additional meditations.
The key is to practice regularly until it becomes a habit and available when you need it right away. On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.
Mastering your emotions, like anything worth having, is worth working for when you have stronger deeper connections with the people closest to you.
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