Calm Discussions, Cool Heads

Couples, whether romantic or those working with others in partnerships and other kinds of relationship dyads often need skills and tips on how to enter a discussion, and the best strategies for keeping it calm and ultimately successful. While the goal might be to be heard, make a point, right a wrong or solve a problem, many conversations devolve into screaming matches or people end up blowing things up out of frustration, rage or an inability to say "I can't do this right now." At this point, everyone is nowhere. This may be especially helpful as the holidays are just around the corner, which means stress, stress and a sprinkle (or large dose) of family and workplace trauma and drama. Here are some tips on how to keep important discussions from spiraling out of control.

  1. Enter the discussion from a place of good faith. Set some clear goals and intentions for what you would like to have happen. Avoid entering the discussion with assumptions about the intentions or attitudes of the other. Do not attempt to mind read. Ask if you need clarity about something.
  2. If things do get heated hit pause and take a break. It's can be helpful to ask: what's happening for me right now and what's happening for the other person? I'm feeling this right now, what's going on for you?
  3. Notice what your body language is conveying. Pay attention to your words, your tone and the volume. Continue to check-in making sure that the conversation is productive and staying on track.
  4. Do not use the discussion as an opportunity to trot out old things to bolster your point or finally get justice about something that happened previously. Stay focused on the here and now. Issues from the past may be better saved for another time.
  5. If you feel triggered at some point during the discussion, it's better to identify this and say "I'm starting to get really angry" or "I'm shutting down now."  "Can we finish this later." Don't walk away, storm out or turn your back on the other participant without letting them know what's going on for you. 
  6. Listen with care and attention as the other shares. Do not interrupt. Let the other finish their statement.
  7. Make observations not judgments. "I've noticed that there's often a big mess on the table after the meeting" not "You always such a slob in the office"
  8. Be present and avoid coming up with responses or thinking ahead when you should be listening.
  9. Do not invalidate what the other might be feeling. ("Your life isn't that stressful compared to...") If you were raised in an invalidating environment, this may be a style that you've learned to repeat.
  10. Use reflective listening and empathy with the other person. (It sounds like it upset you when...")
  11. Be clear about your feelings and be assertive in your communication as you speak.
  12. Never begin your sentence with "you." It immediately puts the other on the defense.
  13. No name-calling or mud-slinging. Who can hear what's being said when they are being attacked? It immediately shuts down the conversation and the other becomes defensive.
  14. Be respectful always. Even when you don't agree.
  15. Aim for clear and consistent consequences for problem behaviors.
  16. Choose neutral times and places for important discussions.
  17. Avoid arguing when emotions are high and strong. It is best to cool off and save it for later when it is likely to be more productive.
  18. Do not withhold love and affection because of a fight or because you're angry.
  19. Brainstorm together for good solutions and collaboration.
  20. Pick and choose your battles. Not everything needs to be discussed, analyzed and shared.