1) Staying Calm
Frustration and anger fuel negative behavior. Most discussions fall apart as soon as one person’s heart rate increases. In situations where we feel emotionally or physically threatened physiologically our heart rate surges and our adrenaline rises. Our “fight, flight, or freeze” mechanism kicks in and problem solving becomes very difficult. When we are in this state we are more likely to verbally attack others, become defensive, or run away from the situation. At this point, we are not emotionally regulated and our interaction progressively gets worse.
When a person is not emotionally regulated and they are in the fight, flight, or freeze mode they need to take a break from the situation until they are regulated again. They can go for a walk, listen to calming music, do breathing exercises, or other activities that help them to regulate their emotions. After they are calm, they need to come back to the situation and try to resolve it again.
2) Improve Your Nonverbal Communication
How many of you have heard, “It’s not the words you use but how you say it?” Your tone of voice speaks volumes of how you really feel about a situation. Avoid sarcasm and scoffing when trying to communicate with others. Our body language speaks the loudest. Your facial expressions, gestures, posture, and level of eye contact are powerful when communicating.
Pay attention to others and your own body language. Look for clues on how the other person might be feeling by noticing his or her face and stance of their body. Avoid facial expressions that convey mockery or contempt. Don’t roll your eyes, purse your lips, or twist them in a sarcastic smile. By improving how you understand and use nonverbal communication, you can express what you really mean, connect better with others, and build stronger, more meaningful relationships.
3) Listening and Speaking Without Being Defensive
The key to defusing defensiveness is to be a good listener. When you are the listener it is your job to understand and empathize with the feelings behind the words you hear. This can be very difficult, especially when someone is criticizing or yelling at you. Try not to get hooked into the personal attacks that provoke you to defend yourself. Nondefensive listening doesn’t mean you agree with the other person. Your job is to understand and empathize with how they are feeling and accept them as legitimate even if you don’t share the same feeling.
When you are speaking, especially after you were the listener, your automatic reaction might be to express your displeasure by criticizing or expressing contempt. This will escalate the conflict.
Learn to express your complaint rather than make a personal attack. How you react to the situation at this point will determine the likely outcome.
Listening or speaking without being defensive helps prevent destructive behaviors. It will help defuse negative cycles we often get into in relationships with our spouse, children, and others.
4) Locking in the Empathy and Validating
Empathy and validating are putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagining his or her emotional state. Letting them know you truly understand him or her is one of the most powerful tools for healing your relationship. Instead of ignoring others' point of view, you try to see the problem from their perspective and show them that you value their viewpoint.
Summarize and then validate what the other person might be experiencing. For example, “It makes sense to me now why you saw it this way, and what your needs were.” Take responsibility for your actions in situations that do not turn out well. Apologize if you were wrong. Admitting you were wrong has a powerful impact on your relationships. Complimenting the other person for handling tough situations will likely have a positive effect on the rest of your conversation.
Sometimes it is difficult to empathize and validate the feelings and perspectives of others. In this case, let the other person know you are trying to understand how they feel or their perspective. “I hear what you are saying and am trying to understand how you feel.” This is still validating that they are important to you even though you do not understand their point of view. Empathy and validation need to be genuine to be effective.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Changing behaviors requires a lot of practice. Don’t give up when these strategies do not work right away. The more you practice these skills the more automatic they will become. Incorporating these four keys in your relationships will improve them. As you do this your relationships will become a source of support and happiness in life.
Applied Consistently Over Time,
Produce Big Results.
John M Gottman Ph.D. Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.
Kyle Bringhurst, MSW