Smarter tactics for staying cool.
Stopping disagreements from spiraling out of control requires a patient approach—and sometimes holding your breath and counting to 10 doesn’t do the trick. “Argumentation takes practice,” says Ryan Martin, an anger researcher at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. Here are a few tips for staying poised when you’re going head-to-head.
An argument can escalate quickly when the people arguing feel as if they’re being attacked on a personal level. To avoid hurt feelings, Martin recommends shifting the focus away from the other person and toward a specific remark or behavior. Instead of saying, “You’re so insensitive,” try, “What you just said was insensitive.” Then explain why you find the conduct upsetting.
Turn Down the Volume
People in conversation have a tendency to match each other’s tone, Martin says. When you sense that things are about to get loud, try lowering your voice and slowing down your rate of speech as a way of getting the person you’re arguing with to do the same.
Hold Up a Mirror
Asking someone a question about what he or she is saying (“Does that sound fair?”) is an easy yet powerful way to manipulate control of a difficult discussion. It gives the other person a chance to self-reflect while buying you some extra time to think, according to Preston Ni, author of How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People.
Don’t Dwell on It
If you feel that you’re going to say something you’ll regret, it’s OK to step away from an argument. But don’t marinate in negative feelings: In an Iowa State University study, angry rumination was shown to increase the likelihood and intensity of an aggressive response later. Regroup to reach a resolution when you’ve both regained composure.