Conflict is an inevitable part of living in human society, but interpersonal conflicts seem to be particularly emotionally-charged in the U.S. nowadays, regardless of whether you’re arguing about politics, finances or other areas of dispute in our daily lives.
If you find yourself getting upset and angry (or perhaps shutting down and shutting others out), you might want to try employing these three proven strategies for maintaining calm in heated arguments:
Focus on Your Breathing
There have been countless studies conducted on the psychological and physiological benefits of breathing, and the results are fairly consistent: slow, deep breathing techniques are proven to reduce your heart rate, increase your comfort and mental alertness, and reduce arousal, anxiety and anger.
When engaged in a heated argument, focusing on your breathing (and your body overall) can help you maintain physical and mental calmness. As silly as it may seem to have to practice something all humans do naturally and unconsciously throughout our daily lives, practicing breathing techniques is the only way to experience the full benefits. Without a keen sense of self-awareness achieved through consistent practice, it may seem like deep breathing doesn’t help much. In reality, this is one of the best ways to stay calm in a heated argument.
Engage in Reflective Listening
Reflective listening involves genuinely paying attention to another person’s words, feelings and nonverbal expressions in an attempt to understand where they’re coming from (which is a core component of empathy). When you’re engaged in reflective listening, you shouldn’t interrupt the other person — no matter how much you might want to. Instead, offer brief forms of acknowledgement, such as “m-hmm,” “go on,” “oh really?” or even just a simple head nod or change of facial expression to signal that you’re actively listening.
Reflective listening requires a considerable amount of self-awareness and self-control, which also relate to the concept of motivated reasoning that we previously wrote about.
Consider the Consequences
When you’re involved in an interpersonal conflict, consider how much you value the person versus how much you value your position on a given matter. If this argument continues and heads in a more negative direction, is it worth sacrificing the stability of your relationship with this person in order to vocalize your viewpoints and attempt to win them over?
With this in mind, consider the potential outcomes of an argument. Is it over a relatively minor issue (in the overall scope of your life) or is this a major problem with potentially life-changing consequences? Is the person/group involved worth the time and emotional energy you’re putting into arguing with them? If so, would you still want to argue with them if there was a 0% chance that they would ever change their mind?
The questions above ask you to consider your relationship with the person(s) you’re arguing with, the issue you’re divided over, and the potential consequences that may result from the conflict. When involved in a heated argument, it’s easy for us to get tunnel vision and ignore these important considerations in order to focus on “winning,” but this is rarely an effective strategy for actually changing people’s viewpoints and maintaining healthy relationships with them at the same time.
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