For many of us, it can be incredibly hard to stay calm when it feels like we're being sucked into an argument. Psychologists, however, have many tools that can help – and we're here to share them with you.
Conflict is natural – and no matter how naturally calm you may be, you will encounter it at some point in your life. How you choose to respond to that conflict, however, is something you can control.
In particular, it takes emotional intelligence. Low emotional intelligence makes it harder to stay calm, which can fuel further conflict, while high emotional intelligence makes it easier for you to keep your emotions under control, so you can better stay calm.
Fortunately, you can develop your emotional intelligence – and these six tools can help.
1. Active listening. In a conflict, it can be easy to feel like you're not being heard, at which point you may repeat your point, only louder. Now put yourself in the other person's shoes – if you don't feel like you're being heard, they likely feel the same way.
So make a conscious effort to hear what they're saying, and ask questions to get more information – without constructing a response. Simply hear what they have to say. Taking the time to listen allows your peer to feel heard – and ensures that you take the time to make a rational response.
2. Ask questions. This helps tremendously in conflict resolution, as it goes hand-in-hand with active listening.
It's important that you ask questions that show respect, however – avoid questions that use words like “do,” “don't,” “did,” and “didn't” (as those are often leading questions) and instead focus on more open-ended questions, such as “what,” “why,” “when,” and “how.” You'll notice the difference almost immediately.
3. Body concentration. By focusing on your body, you become more aware of the physical sensations of stress – the tension in your shoulders, your shallow breathing, and more.
As a result, by concentrating on your body, you can return your posture to a neutral or even positive state – and that more open, calm, and relaxed posture can help diffuse tensions naturally.
4. Controlled breaths. While you may be familiar with controlling your breath as a result of meditation or yoga, the same principle applies when facing conflict.
Controlling your breathing and taking deep breaths helps your body de-stress, making it easier for you to de-escalate the situation, rather than make it worse. Simply deeply inhale through your nose, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Those deep breaths help slow, or even end, the production of two stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.
5. Respect disagreement. Sometimes you're just, no matter how much you talk something through, not feel the same way as someone else. And that's okay!
Being willing to disagree, calmly, is an important skill, especially if you can do so while making it clear that you still respect the person with whom you disagree.
6. Volume control. When our voice gets louder, it escalates conflict. Studies have also shown that voice levels are linked to elevated blood pressure, which can make it harder to understand what's being said. Instead, you regain control and help diffuse conflict by lowering your voice.
Making a conscious decision to speak more quietly imparts a sense of calm, and makes it clear that you're not threatening the other person.
Of course, even using those six tools, you won't always stay calm. Humans are emotional creatures, and it's important to respect and accept that – just as it's important to forgive when you or someone else acts unbecomingly in a conflict.
Learn more in the video below: