How to Maintain Your Cool When a Conversation Gets Hot
Conversation is challenging enough at times. When it gets heated, conversation can seem impossible. While some double-down and dig in, others back up and exit—perhaps not physically, but emotionally. When emotionally charged, increased cortisol levels make you more reactive and sensitive, and decreased oxytocin diminishes your ability to trust others. While you may be able to control your words, your tone of voice and body language will always reveal your true feelings.
Meaningful relationships require honest, respectful conversation. Words matter; they have the power to bind us or divide us. So, how do you respectfully converse with someone who strongly holds an opposing belief? What can you do when disagreement arises and a conversation heats up?
- When possible, spend time thinking through anticipated issues before engaging in challenging conversations. Explore alternative points of view and roll-play potential questions.
- Consider timing and location. Charged discussions rarely turn out well in public settings or online.
- Be emotionally prepared. If you are sick, stressed, or short on time, do not engage.
- Identify your trigger buttons and know how to respond when they are pushed.
- Assume and maintain an open posture both physically and emotionally. Pause and breath.
- Be conscious of your non-verbal communication, which will override anything you say and can escalate emotion. Body language can convey sincere interest or sheer disgust. Tone that is snappy, short, or harsh shuts others down and places them in a defensive posture. Opt to remove barriers by using slower, more gentle speech.
- Assume a curious posture. What can you learn from this person? Presume there are things you do not know.
- Seek to understand the other person’s perspective; understanding does not mean that you agree.
- Ask questions to gain understanding. When you are talking, you are not learning.
- Listen without judgment. This is not easy to do in the heat of battle!
- “I hear you.” Being heard can make all the difference.
- Listen for pain points. Anger is often a cover for pain or fear.
- Give space for silence, which can be golden in tense situations.
Be Relationship Focused
- No matter the topic, people are not your enemy.
- Attempt to see the issue through their eyes, and care about their perspective.
- Decide that the relationship is more valuable than “winning” the conversation.
What should you do when a conversation gets too hot? Plan your exit strategy in advance. Here are a few suggestions for excusing yourself from a fiery discussion.
- “Thank you for sharing. I would like some time to consider what you have said.”
- “I understand your point of view, but see it differently.”
- “I value you and want to hear what you have to say, but I am having a difficult time hearing you because I feel like I am being attacked.”
- “Your relationship is important to me, and I would like to agree to disagree on this topic.”
Bottom line? Reaffirm what matters: your relationship. While not easy, it is possible to maintain a relationship with those who hold strongly opposing views—if the relationship is your focus. Those who learn to keep their cool under pressure will cultivate a climate of trust and increase their social capital.