Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

4 Tips For Keeping Your Cool When The Conversation Gets Heated

in the midst of fog

The next time your emotions push you over the edge . . . breathe, sit and listen before you speak.

So you know how it goes.

You set out to have a calm conversation with your teenager or your partner and before you know it, you’re both yelling like banshees or retreating in sullen, angry silence to your respective corners. You’re either fighting or fleeing. And you're noticing there might not be much difference between you and a guest on an episode of Geraldo.

Well, sit down and hold on. Help is on the way in the following 4 tips. If you follow them, they will keep your communication cool when conversations heat up.

First, Breathe
When we get upset, our pulse and breath quicken, the blood rushes to our core, and we are ready to either flee our enemy or stand and fight.

This was an awesome asset back when we lived in caves and mountain lion attacks could be a daily occurrence. Neither of these responses is helpful, however, in a situation that calls for calm speaking, attentive listening and compromise.

So the first antidote for a plunge into fight or flight mode is slow, deep breathing.

Next, Sit Down
We are naturally calmer when we sit but, even more helpful, we seem calmer and less aggressive to others when we're seated because we remain at their level and can't pace or move into their space.

We also can’t flail our arms as much, which, if you think about it, makes us seem kind of wierd and scary.

Then, Listen
Set aside your own agenda while the other person is speaking, and try to simply listen.

Okay, so this is much harder than it sounds.

Because to really listen you have to turn off that pesky critical running commentary in your head, the one that thinks of corrections or comebacks for each point the other person makes, and is just dying to get a word in edgewise.

There will be time for your speaking later. For now . . . sit down, shut up and listen.

Then . . . Yes, Finally . . . Speak
Now it's time to tell your story, your version of the event, calmly and clearly.

And, yes, I am going to suggest that you use I statements. But not one of the many have-your-blame-and-eat-it-too versions of the I statement, like "I feel you should" or "I think you are." When you really analyze them, you see that these statements are actually just sneaky ways to make "you statements," which are a big no-no in difficult or heated conversations because they tend to make people want to go on the defensive.

Communicating clearly and respectfully when we’re upset is hard work, people, and it’s easy to let our emotions overwhelm us and send us into that mode in which we feel our only options are to fight or flee. But it is next to impossible to live in this mode while also staying in relationship with the important people in our lives.

So, the next time you feel your emotions pushing you over the edge, remember to breathe, sit, listen and, only then, speak. If you can progress through the steps in this order, you and your relationship will live to fight, I mean communicate, another day.


Anne Barker is a writer and psychotherapist in Omaha, NE, specializing in working with couples and individuals on all manner of relationship issues. Visit Anne’s relationship blog at Hitch Fix or her website to find out more about her writing and services.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.


Explore YourTango