De-Escalation Strategies for Arguing and Conflict

by Dawn Billings, founder of RelationshipHelp.com

Strategies for de-escalating conflict

Conflict is inevitable. Whether at home, at work, on a vacation there are many ways we can stumble into an argument before we even realize what we are doing. Above are some very easy, but important tips about how to handle yourself once you discover you are in the middle of a conflict.

  1. Don't raise your voice to a screaming level. Screaming has never helped anyone hear what you are saying. In fact, there is nothing that turns off listening like screaming at one another. I know it is tempting. I come from a long line of emotional loud talkers, but had to break the habit when I realized that it just caused more conflict instead of helping to diminish it.

  2. Respect differing opinions and ideas. This is something everyone could benefit from these days. People have different personality tendencies and see the world through different colored lenses, therefore they are going to have differing opinions and ideas. I think we should return to the days when having the ability to consider a differing idea was a sign of emotional intelligence, because, well, it actually is.

  3. Do not use "You Always" and "You Never". Of course no one is ever 100% at anything so statements like "You ALWAYS" or "You NEVER" create immediate arguments to the contrary. Instead attempt to use "I feel ________, when you do _______." Now you are communicating your feelings without making an accusation that immediately causes your partner to want to stop what you are saying and defend.

  4. Avoid making demands. Okay let's face it, in the middle of an argument or disagreement is the worst time to make any kind of demand. If there is every a noncompliant time for people, it is in the middle of a conflict.

  5. Don't show disrespect like "Talk to the hand!" When my teenage daughter was at this stage it would send me to the moon. First it is incredibly disrespectful, but more than that it is a cowards way of arguing. If the argument is worth having, then at least take a deep breath and make it calmly and intelligently.

  6. Use Your Active Listening Skills. There is nothing better than active listening skills to calm a conflict. The reason we are arguing most of the time is because we believe the other person isn't listening. When we actively listen, repeat what is being said to us as if we care to hear it and get their nod that yes that is what they most wanted to say, it is amazing how simply that can defuse most disagreements. We all just want to know that we have been heard.

  7. Deep breathe when you begin to feel upset. Our bodies get ahead of us. Our heart beat rises, our blood pressure begins to rise when we feel frustrated, attacked or disrespected. So make sure you remember to deep breathe. This is an easy but extraordinarily effective way to calm your body down so that your brain can work to find a solution to the current problem.

  8. Control your tone and temper. Again, this goes back to number one. Whether you scream, seethe, roll your eyes, discredit, demean or scoff, none of these actions are going to alleviate your conflict. But I promise you they will enhance it.

  9. Don't allow yourself to get defensive. This is a hard one. Of course when we are in the middle of a disagreement we want to feel defensive but there are so many arguments that are really born out of our partner's frustration of other things. When your partner is upset, first imagine that they are really struggling and it might not have anything to do with you. Begin with a strategy of being on their team, instead of starting as a defensive adversary.

  10. Remember feelings aren't FACTS. Wow if I could have each of my clients only remember one thing that I teach them while they are working with me it would be to remember feelings are NOT facts. We are not taught how to listen to someone else's feelings. We struggle because we think we need to defend ourselves from an untrue or exaggerated accusation and therefore we are busy creating our argument while someone else is expressing how they feel. Feelings are not facts. Feelings are information that simply tells us how someone else is feeling. Their feelings are not our fault, although when we love someone we should care about how they might be feeling.

  11. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. You love this person. If you are every going to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, give it to them. Don't negatively interpret everything they say because you are feeling defensive.

  12. Take a short movement break / walk. When you really feel things are getting out of hand or you are at the point that you could do or say something that you will deeply regret later, STOP. De-escalate. Go for a walk. Get a drink. Breathe. Take some time to calm yourself down.

  13. Use your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is considered by experts to be the most important intelligence when it comes to relating to other people.

  14. Listen more than you speak. Why have I basically included this concept twice? It is because it is worthy of repetition. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Your ears need to be used twice as often as your mouth. People are actually afraid of listening. Think about it. When someone says "We need to talk." What happens to your stomach? Listening has gotten a bad rap because it is confused with criticism, complaining and accusing. Listening can simply be listening. Just listen and repeat back in a respectful way what you think you have heard. You don't have to agree with what is being said to simply listen to it.

  15. Avoid accusatory statements that begin with "You Are . . ." Again, "You are ________" feels like an accusation. If you want your partner to understand something about what they are doing remember the "I feel statements" that I mentioned above. You are selfish! can be stated like "I feel when you go golfing every Saturday and leave me alone with the kids that you aren't taking into consideration how I might need a break sometimes too."

  16. Don't call each other ugly names. Okay this is a no brainer and yet so many times people resort to being six years old on the playground reaching for some sort of childish insult and name calling. Think back to every time you have resorted to this childish behavior. Has it ever worked well for you? The answer is of course, NO. So if it doesn't ever work, I recommend you break the habit you created at six and develop a new habit of not calling someone you love ugly names.

Dawn Billings, RelationshipHelp.com

Personality and relationship expert Dawn Billings is the author and architect of Primary Colors Relationship Personality Tests and RelationshipHelp.com training. Dawn is the author of hundreds of articles and executive director of the Relationship Help Resort in Arizona where she leads private couple's retreats and intensives to strengthen, empower and heal relationships.

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