Conflict and heightened emotion go hand in hand. When we sense a threat we begin to assess the environment and draw conclusions. Then we quickly transition to making assumptions about the other person’s intentions, and our anger and frustration mounts. Almost without thinking, we take a defensive posture and mount our offensive. Sadly, when we go on the warpath, we lose our ability to grasp problems, formulate effective solutions, deal realistically with situations, and manage impulses that, if unchecked, disrupt our ability to resolve disagreements effectively.
Seeing things objectively—the way they really are—is extremely difficult in an emotionally charged environment, even when we know what we should be doing intellectually. Recognizing what drives you to feel the way you do, and the impact of that on those around you, can help you more quickly disrupt the process and diffuse the situation.
The information below can help you cope with heightened emotions, slow up, and resist the urge to go on the warpath.
Learn What Sets You Off
Being able to resist the temptation to act in highly emotional ways involves learning more about what upsets you in the first place. Understanding what types of situations and behaviors unnerve you enough so that you overreact can help you manage expectations and avoid certain situations whenever possible. Pay close attention to how you physically respond when disagreements escalate, and notice if you feel flushed, tense, sick to your stomach, or your head pounds. This is your early warning system and can help you realize that you are becoming overwhelmed and your capacity for rational thought is fading.
Have A Plan and Practice It
Experiment with different methods of calming yourself, from taking a breath, to asking for a break in the action, to rethinking how you are handling the situation. The key is to have a specific plan of action in mind before the emotions start to rise. You can also do a bit of a dress rehearsal if you know that you are potentially walking into a situation that typically triggers you. Even if you practice, don’t blame yourself if you slip—just try and right the ship as quickly as you can.
Don’t Quash Your Emotions
Once the emotions are there and growing stronger, your first instinct might be to quash them as a way to seem like you’re in control and un-phased. As you probably know already, this creates a ticking time bomb that ultimately explodes when you least want it to. Quashing what you’re feeling leads to outbursts, sarcasm, and passive-aggressive behavior. Not acknowledging how you’re feeling isn’t hiding the emotion from the other person and is the worst thing you can do. Not expressing how you feel in a constructive way gives the other person the ability to substitute his or her own thinking about how you are feeling and doesn’t resolve the tension.
Vent What You Are Feeling Appropriately
Often reaching out to talk with someone else can help re-evaluate the situation, your stance, and the other person’s viewpoint—but not always. Venting with the right person can often help take the pressure off, as long as the person you are sharing this with listens, acknowledges how you’re feeling, and helps you shift focus to the resolution of the matter at hand. Venting becomes unproductive when it becomes all about gratuitous bashing of the other person involved in the disagreement.
Develop A Positive Mindset
Thinking negatively can serve as its own trigger for negative emotions and lead to damaging behavior. Developing positive emotions can broaden the options facing you and help you remain curious in the face of a challenge. Seeing things with a positive mindset can help you narrow the opportunity for an angry response and help you set new patterns of responding to what stresses you. Maintaining a positive attitude, and understanding how your emotions impact others, can help decrease the overall tension.
Emotions rule where conflict is involved, and when they get the best of us, a strategic retreat is always called for.