On Wednesday I posted a few tips about slowing down your own emotional reactions so you don’t say things, or do things, you regret later.
Here are a few more ways to intervene on your behalf when the going gets tough, or when your inner tough guy wants to really get going:
Be curious: Try to stay open enough to really hear what the other person is saying. You can even label the key themes that he’s addressing — e.g., “you’re late too often” or “I’m not satisfied with your work” or “I’m so stressed out I can’t see straight.” By labeling the other person’s points, you have a better chance of seeing a) what he’s really saying (as opposed to what you think he’s saying); and b) seeing where you don’t have to take his own stress personally.
Think “respond” versus “react” Reacting is something you do without thinking. It is often aimed at short term gains (e.g., venting your feelings or making someone else shut up about their own). Responding, on the other hand, is custom designed to deal with the situation right in front of you and tends to incorporate some analysis of the big picture or long-term strategy (e.g., “what would be most constructive here? What are my long-range goals with this person/project/company?”)
Avoid contagion: Simply put, emotional reactivity is contagious. If you start yelling, the other person is more likely to start yelling, too (unless you get so nasty they shut up out of sheer terror — or a desire to bring the “conversation” to quick close.) If you can stay calm — or give yourself a time out — you’ll avoid triggering the very reactions in the other person that you’re having yourself.
And finally, make choices, not messes. If you can insert even a moment’s pause between your feeling (anger) and your first line of defense (yelling or retreating) you can decide what you want to say and how you want to say it. It’s a gift, actually, that you give yourself so as to avoid escalating what may already be a tense encounter and doing damage that may be hard to undo for a long time to come.