Ever started a seemingly healthy and regular conversation, only to have it re-routed into troubled waters, stress levels rising, and conflict brewing? It is actually very common to lose sight of the main topic of conversation and instead, unaware, wander into a tense argument. The heat of the argument ends up overtaking any meaningful communication.
So, how do you recognize the triggers and guide your conversation back to a more calm and productive discussion? Talking to the various experts in mediating, communication and dispute resolution- we have put together some essential tips to effectively navigate your conversations away from stress.
Caution in Digital Conversations
“Drowning in a sea of information and being hyper-connected, while simultaneously disconnected. Our lack of meaningful connections with other humans can turn conversations into landmines. Digital communication is fast, easy and often effective. However, when it goes bad, it goes really bad.
“We are hardwired to read the subtle clues found in body language, and voice tone for understanding the meaning and intention of the speaker. Without this, it is like a blind person with a screen reader telling them that there is an image on the screen but no details about the image. The lack of full information is frustrating to the receiver, forcing them to work harder to understand you. That text message, no matter how many emojis you add, will always lack the vital clues the other person needs to fully understand you.
“Most people are functioning with some degree of overwhelm in their life, so when we make it hard to understand their natural reaction will be to push back out of emotion. They will not be inclined to work harder to understand you and take your message as it lands on first read – which is more often incorrect than correct.
“This is why it is vital to make the effort to have the important conversations face to face. To have them see, hear and feel your message while you also observe their reaction. When they look confused, ask them to tell you what they heard. Then you can clarify and clear up misunderstandings quickly and easily. Granted, some conversations are uncomfortable and can trigger unconscious bias on both sides, and in those situations, it is very helpful to apply these tools;
- Breathe – taking a slow deep breath allows your nervous system to calm down and gives you a chance to think about what and how you want to express.
- Focus on understanding the other person – when we feel heard and understood, then we can relax and are more open to new ideas. Focusing on the other person by asking questions, understanding how they see the situation will put them at ease and give you insights on how to frame your position so that they can understand you as well.
- Let go of needing to be right or winning. – the person you are talking with can sense your need to win and will automatically adopt a defensive position. When you are not looking to win, but to explore options and possibilities, you open the door for the other person to do the same.
- Remember that it starts with you – how you come to the table sets the tone.”
“Each conversation has the potential to be productive or destructive. Keep practicing the skills above to turn more of your meetings into meaningful encounters.”
“The secret to eliminating stress and conflict triggers from difficult conversations is listening the other person into existence. What this means in practice is:
- Ignore the speaker’s words;
- Read the speaker’s emotions;
- Reflect back the speaker’s emotions with a simple: ‘you’ statement;
‘What’s going on John?’
‘I’m really pissed off because you keep showing up late at our appointments.’
‘You are angry, frustrated, and feel disrespected.’
‘You are worried about our relationship and that makes you sad.’
‘Yeah, thanks for listening to me.’
“Brain science shows that this is the only way of listening that de-escalates strong emotions. Techniques like active listening or nonviolent communication (sometimes called compassionate communication) are not based on science and are not effective in difficult conversations.”
Doug Noll is a lawyer and professional mediator with decades of experience in managing and resolving conflicts of all types. He teaches de-escalation skills for maximum security prisons. He has also taught senior analysts at the Congressional Budget Office how to de-escalate members of Congress and staff. Author of four books and numerous articles on peacemaking, conflict management, de-escalation, and mediation. He also teaches graduate classes at the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution, Caruso School of Law, Pepperdine University.
The Difference Between Demands and Requests and Why It Matters
“There’s a world of difference between a demand and a request. Demands are when you tell someone what to say or do. Demands can alienate others by inferring that their needs are not important. Requests are when you ask another to say or do something. Requests increase connection.” (Terri Moon)
- Submit or Rebel?
“There are two ways to respond to a demand: submit or rebel. Submitting is easier in the short-term. Regularly going along for the sake of ease & harmony can lead to resentment and disempowerment.
“Your other option is to rebel, by saying “No”. This may require energy, strength, and courage. You may feel empowered as you take a stand and it might also leave the other person thinking their needs don’t matter to you.” (Terri Moon)
“It only becomes clear whether it’s a demand or a request when the other person hears your “No”. If they attempt to convince you by shaming, guilt-tripping or manipulating, then it’s a demand. If you buy into these tactics, you could end up regretting that you didn’t go along in the first place!” (Terri Moon)
- Restoring Choice and Collaboration
“There’s a third choice: get curious. Ask what needs would be met by doing what is asked. Curiosity helps them get clear about their needs, lets them know that you understand, and demonstrates care which increases goodwill and harmony. Curiosity preserves choice and turns the conversation into a collaboration.”
“Concerned this will take more time? Mutually agreeable outcomes usually happen within 20 minutes of understanding each other’s needs. It’s an efficient use of resources in the long-term because it builds trust. Short-term, it requires pausing, getting curious and communicating, three uncommon habits. The efficiency and collaboration more than outweigh the required change in habits.”
Terri Moon, the creator of Harmony at Home, has 16 years of experience as a Heart-Based Communication Trainer, Coach and Mediator.
“Empathy and compassion are underrated in the world. It can solve more issues than we can imagine. What man is for, if not politeness and courtesy? Keep the tone low and word choice moderate while speaking to someone. It will add up to the essence of the conversation. One can win hearts with logic and not high volume.” (Amelia Alvin)
“Listening to other people is key to productive conversations. Once we start listening to another person peacefully, we close the doors for difficult and stressful conversations.” (Amelia Alvin)
“Avoid picking fights and jumping to conclusions. Getting through the process of completing a discussion is a vital key to avoiding conflicts. Patience doesn’t lose it.” (Amelia Alvin)
Stick to Point
“Twists and turns should never be on your list while starting a conversation with anyone. Deviating from the main focus of the conversation will make way for complexities. Stay on point and it will smooth the talk and save you the stress of unproductive discussions.” (Amelia Alvin)
“Put rigidity aside before initiating a discussion. People do develop ideological differences but that does not explain getting extremist about your views. Respect the opinion differences and be open to welcome various suggestions even if they are not right. It is ok if you don’t want to adjust perspectives or shift your thoughts, respect and acknowledge.” (Amelia Alvin)
Solution-Oriented – Be Solution-Focused
“Don’t argue just for the sake of winning the argument. The conversation only becomes productive when someone searches for solutions to the issues. Don’t be an eristic, be a conflict solver. Nothing is more constructive than being a situation handler. Happy conversation.”
Amelia Alvin is a practicing psychiatrist at Mango Clinic
Don’t Let the Conversation Get Derailed
“Have you ever started a conversation and found your body tensing up, jaws clenched and before you know it, you are going down a rabbit hole? Five important things to remember for productive conversations:
- Agree on why you are having the conversation;
- Keep distractions (including devices) out of sight;
- Give the other person your full attention (no thinking about the other 10 things you need to get done today!);
- Be aware of when you get hooked by a comment, word, phrase and react with a knee-jerk reaction – this is a sign that the conversation has just been derailed!
- Take a deep breath and restate what you agreed you wanted to focus on and keep moving toward that goal, ignoring future hooks which drag you down into a rabbit hole!”
Pegotty Cooper, Divorce Coaching Inc.