Practice Safe Conversations: How to regulate the temperature when things become heated

I started off my career in law; however, soon after I entered the workforce I became brutally aware of how unequipped I was to handle difficult workplace situations.

I had seen people blow up and lose their tempers, creating direct and collateral damage that would last for years to come.

I had also seen people give the cold shoulder like it was an Olympic sport until someone eventually conceded with a non-committal, “Hey, wanna get a coffee.” This, of course, while the other person was secretly gloating inside, feeling a false sense of satisfaction that they had “won.”

Neither of these options felt good to me. Nothing had been resolved, there was no plan for moving forward, and don’t even get me started on the long-term damage to these relationships.

So what are some more effective ways to regulate the temperature when things become too hot or too cold in a conversation?

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

When it comes to safety, it’s helpful to follow the principle that they use in airplanes: put your own oxygen mask on first. It’s challenging (if not impossible) to help someone else feel safe until you’re feeling safe yourself. So check in with yourself!

We all have different early warning signs that let us know we’re feeling unsafe. For most people, it’s usually a physical sensation – perhaps your shoulders tense up, or you stomach starts to feel queasy. Start to pay attention to these signs and notice when you’re feeling unsafe. Awareness is always the first step.

Once you’ve become more attuned to picking up on your early warning signs, you can then start to take steps to restore safety for yourself. There are many different methods for doing this, so you’ll need to find the ones that work best for you.

I’ve listed 3 of my favourite simple, yet powerful techniques below. When you feel yourself heading into the fight, flight, or freeze zone, you typically don’t have the brain power available for a complicated technique. And guess what? You don’t need one. You just need to do something that works for you.

Take a Few Deep Breaths
Once you become aware that you’re feeling unsafe, notice your breathing. Is it shallow? Short? Then shift to a more comfortable position and take a few deep relaxing breaths. You can do this while the other person is talking and still focus on the conversation. Notice how this brief moment of self-care changes your state and your attitude.

Take a Break
Excuse yourself respectfully from the conversation and take a few moments and regroup. You can let the other person know that you’re really interested in continuing the discussion (so that they don’t read anything negative into your departure) or you can even let them know that you need a minute to collect your thoughts. There is no magic formula here, so do what feels best for you in the situation. And again, notice how creating this space for yourself shifts the dynamics and interactions in the discussion.

Talk about It
Last but not least, for some people, letting the other person know that they feel that the conversation is going off track can help. This is a technique that people feel comfortable using when they become better at noticing their own discomfort and taking care of themselves. In some contexts, you may feel able to share this level of information about yourself and how you’re doing with the other person. Giving them this information can also help them to shift their state of being as well.

Once you’re feeling comfortable and safe again, you can then decide whether you’re able to help the other person to cool down… but that’s a topic for a future post.

So, now that you’ve seen the tips on how to create safety for yourself…

Which tip do you like the best and why?
Which one is the most challenging for you and why?
How are you going to try and create more safety for yourself in difficult conversations?

Feel free to share your responses – I always love hearing from you!

Happy reflections,

Nayla

“CALM is a superpower” – Anonymous