1. Calm Down:
When you are upset, it’s hard to see possibilities. Before you make any decision about a situation that upsets you, take time to pause. This may be the most important step you can take to de-escalate the moment. By taking time to calm yourself down, you are likely to have better perspective on the situation and be more prepared to proceed in a manner in line with your core values and attitudes. Here’s a simple mindfulness practice to follow when you are escalated:
• Notice your breath: is it moving quickly; if so, use intention to focus on it and slow it down;
• How do you feel when you are able to notice just the breath? If you are having a hard time doing just that, do a quick body scan too and pay attention to it. Is your head pounding, are your palms sweaty? Attend briefly to each symptom and remind yourself, literally, of how you want to feel. Notice any shift, however, subtle, in your physical body
• Repeat until you have slowed the breath and have recovered from the physical symptoms of escalation.
• Do not re-visit the conflict until you are physically calmer.
If you are more physically relaxed, you may now turn your attention to what brought you the physical escalation. Make sure you have time and space to concentrate on what really happened. Try not to multi-task or attend to more than this important issue, but, rather, bring all of your attention to what’s really in front of you, even if you only have a few moments to do so.
3. Consider the Possibilities
Now that you have your physical and mental space aligned, turn your attention to the content of the conflict. If possible, write down what has occurred, perhaps repeatedly from your perspective, and list possible responses. Then, if time allows, set it aside for at least a day or more.
4. Get Feedback
It’s important, when facing conflict, not to insulate yourself from perspective. Whether you decide to consult a professional coach or speak to a trusted advisor, it’s important to do a “reality check” before you act. Sometimes, when dealing with conflict, our physical and emotional responses trick us into thinking we are justified in an extreme response. This is rarely the case. After you have thought about what might work, ask someone you trust, and who is likely not to just agree with you, to weigh in too. Consider asking your friend to play devils advocate with you. Sometimes you can sit down with a professional who can hear your perspective and the other person’s too. By creating a safe space for neutral communication, you are creating a more likely scenario for success.
5. Create Closure
If you are fortunate enough to resolve the conflict, allow yourself the opportunity to create a reset for future interactions. You have likely learned something about yourself and the other person in managing the conflict, so trust yourself enough to apply it in the future as well. Not every tool you used this time will work in the future, but you can be certain that any interaction that is less escalated will be more clear-headed and productive. Internalize for yourself what is likely to trigger a negative response and try to avoid scenarios in which this can arise. In addition, be sensitive to the other party’s triggers too and recognize their own limitations.
In my professional experience, we all bring our own experiences (i.e., fears, biases, etc) to the conflicts in which we engage. By aligning our core value with our actions, we are less likely to have a hair trigger response when someone challenges or upsets our world view. By calming down and showing up, you can solve not only a particular conflict but create a mindset and framework for any future dilemmas too. None of us will respond perfectly all the time but we can do a little bit better every time.