Imagine being able to have the confidence and wherewithal to keep your cool and maintain control even in the most heated of circumstances. Whether it’s a parent who’s stressed from a child, or a co-worker who is fed up with a colleague or boss, we all have been there before. We feel our heart racing. We might even get lightheaded. The analogy of a boiling pot, or a thermometer rising, isn’t too far from the truth. In times of extreme stress and anxiety, our bodies enter a fight or flight mode. While some of us choose to flee (which is also not a productive solution when dealing with conflict), many of us choose to fight.
It’s this fight that leads to undesired outcomes that could have been avoided. We’ve seen it in our work throughout New Zealand, Australia and North America. The events leading up to the argument aren’t the real issue in the long term. The damage done during the argument – that’s what hurts the most.
The collateral damage when we lose our cool
When our bodies are in fight or flight mode, our ability to reason (essentially our frontal lobe) is compromised. Unless we’ve practiced our control skills time and time again, we tend to toss away all that we know is right, in order to appease our body’s instincts. As a result, when we lose our cool, we often say or do things we didn’t intend on doing. This could be anything from:
- Yelling at your child
- Telling your boss what you really think of him
- Demeaning a coworker
- Physically harming someone
- Threatening someone
- Making the decision to quit
None of these choices are positive, and all leave us with a host of collateral damage. Even if the argument you had is swept under the rug (let’s say at work), there’s still that elephant in the room. The words you said, or what you did, still linger and have forever altered your role in the workplace. That’s why it’s so important that you learn how to improve your communication skills, and refine your conflict resolution skills. By nipping our instinctual responses in the bud, we can minimize our collateral damage and maintain control of any given situation. But how do you do that?
How to maintain control in heated moments
- Focus on what the other person is trying to achieve. Even the act of attempting to do this helps us to relieve some of our anger and emotions. It’s a form of empathy, but will also help you to see things from the bigger picture. Taking personal offenses is an easy way to lose control. Rather than listening to offensive comments thrown at you, try to get at what the other person is trying to say. That way you’re avoiding personalizing the argument, and instead can figure out a constructive way to solve the issues.
- Breathe. Remaining calm is not an easy task to do, and you can’t just ask your brain to settle down. You have to will it to ease up. Breathing deeply and slowly is a proven way to slow down those emotions.
- Be agreeable. Arguments boil down to one fact: two people disagree. Heck, they might agree on what they disagree about, but the words and tone they choose dictate the outcome – a fight. Avoid all of this by being agreeable, including nodding and telling the other person that you understand what they’re saying (again, that empathy thing).
- Keep your voice civil. Your voice is like the whistle of a tea kettle. When the water’s boiling, the whistle hollers. When your body is at its boiling point, your voice will rise to the occasion. Keep your voice at a civil tone to not only settle yourself, but also to make sure the other person doesn’t feel threatened.
- Stop the insults. The moment you toss in an insult, you’ve now escalated an otherwise normal disagreement into an all out grade school grudge match. You’ve introduced the insults. Now it’s time for the other person to outdo you, and so on.
- Wait out the anger. In most cases, anger can only last so long (the water eventually evaporates). If you wait out the other person’s anger, you may be able to get down to a far more civil conversation.
Losing control during heated arguments is a normal response. We’re all guilty of it. But if we’re able to maintain control, we can help to dictate the outcome, without causing ourselves and others added pain and embarrassment. Practice these tips throughout your day – particularly during potential arguments – so that if the “big one” does erupt one day, you’ll have mastered the skills necessary to keep your cool.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, which is why we recommend businesses, companies and organizations take part in workshops and seminars focused on helping entire offices become better communicators and avoid workplace stress. Learn more with AACT-Now.
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