Conflict an unavoidable part of life. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself at odds with someone else, feeling frustration rising and pulling you toward a big, angry blow-out – probably one you’ll regret later.
You don’t have to be at the mercy of angry emotions. By learning how to read and respond to an unpleasant situation, you’ll become much better at defusing tension and finding a resolution, or at least walking away as the bigger person.
Here are four simple strategies for keeping your cool and not letting anger get the better of you.
1. Tell yourself it’s “just sounds”
In this situation, labeling can help us reduce the impact of what’s being said and look at things in a calmer way. When someone is criticizing you or sparking your anger, take a breath and say to yourself it’s ‘just sounds.’ Because really, that’s all words are. This perspective helps you pull back from your knee-jerk reaction and make a little space for your thoughts. It can lessen the emotional intensity of your reaction, and those emotions make the difference between an all-out fight and a simple disagreement that can be overcome.
2. Let your body talk
Folded arms, eyes down, tense jaw: these are telltale signs of anger. When you’re facing someone showing these signs and you can feel your tension rising, try to encourage a calm stance instead. Consciously relax your body: bring your arms down by your sides, soften your facial expression and lower your voice. If you do it right, the other person will begin to match your expression and energy and you can bring some much-needed chill into the moment. Resist the urge to mirror their angry stance.
3. Let it go
What we’re angling for in any conflict is to get someone else to agree with our position. But we also have to be willing to be wrong, admit it and let go. This is an opportunity for growth. After all, if you’re always sure you’re right, you’ll never hear new perspectives or change for the better. Sometimes letting go isn’t about being wrong at all, but just about picking your battles and weighing up the cost of a conflict. In the middle of a disagreement, take a quick moment to consider what you really have to lose by letting this particular point go.
4. Pause for a time out
All of these strategies call for a pause or a breath of self-reflection to regain control, but what if you need longer than that? Studies show it can take between 15 minutes and 1 hour for adrenaline to be reabsorbed after a conflict. If you’re someone who gets caught up in the heat of emotional responses, that sounds like the perfect time for a time out. Ask for at least 15 minutes to be by yourself. Chances are that’s enough time to address your anger trigger, calm down and to find a way to speak your mind without lashing out. Try these phrases:
“I need some time to consider what you’re saying. Can we come back to this tomorrow?”
“I’m starting to feel angry, so I need to take a few minutes alone to calm down.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about what you’re saying. Can you give me some time to think, then come back to this conversation later?
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