When was the last time someone handed you a rope and said “hey, how about you pull really hard on your end, and I’ll pull really hard on my end, and when one of us falls flat on our face, it’s settled. Okay?”
Eighth grade P.E. class, maybe?
For me, it was last weekend. Except it wasn’t a rope, it was an argument. The same stupid argument we have over and over. And nobody ever wins this particular one. we just pick up our ends of the rope, dig in, and start heaving our weight around. There’s a lot of mud involved and the emotional equivalent of strained muscles.
In the middle of all the pulling and tugging I wondered “Why do we keep tugging? Why not let go of the rope?”
Arguments can go wrong in so many ways when the emotions are high. We say things we don’t intend, we drag up battles of years past, we resurrect old hurts, previous slights, and the reasons to continue arguing pile up. But most of us don’t relish tug ‘o war and the repair cost can be high.
Some graceful ways to let go and buy yourself a little time to cool down without dropping your opponent (or co-worker, or family member) on their derriere.:
Take responsibility for your emotional state:
- I’m getting (angry/frustrated etc.) and I need a few moments to calm down.
- I want to come back to this discussion but I’m not thinking clearly right now, can we take a ten-minute break?
Own your role in what’s going wrong:
- I’m starting to say things I don’t mean because I’m angry/frustrated/sad. Let’s take a break to calm down.
- I think I’m being unfair because I’m feelilng (fill it in….). Can we take a break?
- I know this is important to you and I want to listen carefully. I’m not able to do that right now.
For work-place situations:
- I think you’ve made some good points and I need some time to think them over. Let’s schedule a follow-up conversation.
- I’m going to need some time to consider this information. When can we get back together?
- I can see this is important to you and I don’t have time right now to give it my full attention. Can we come back to it?
It’s very (very!) tempting to tell the other person all the things they’re doing wrong and enumerate all the reasons you can’t possibly have a productive conversation with them, but these kinds of statements probably won’t help:
- You’re so unreasonable/irrational/mean/wrong that I just can’t talk to you.
- You never/always …………(anything).
- You don’t know what you’re talking about.
- You should feel…..(any emotion)
- Oh yeah? Well remember the time you did (this other thing that’s not related to the topic at hand but I’ve been dying to bring this up….)
Ideally, we wouldn’t get into these heated situations in the first place, but once it happens, putting down the rope until you’ve both had a chance to cool down and think things through can save a lot of struggle.
I’m sure there are many other great ways to stop fighting out there. What’s worked for you?