Did you ever get into an argument that escalated out of control and you ended up saying things you later regretted? Unfortunately, it happens all the time. When two people negatively respond back and forth to each other, continually upping the ante while the conversation gets more and more hostile – escalation has occurred.
The most harmful thing about escalation is that in the heat of the moment you tend to say things that threaten the well being of the relationship – statements you cannot take back. “You're so selfish, you're just like your dad”, “You can't ever do it right” or “I wish I never married you”.
Don't let escalation ruin your relationships. If you tend to be in conversations that escalate into damaging interactions, you can change. Learn to prevent escalation from happening in the first place.
Remember it takes two people to argue, but it takes only one person to stop an argument.
Tip 1: Time-Out. Learn to recognize when an argument is about to escalate and call a “time-out”. Say something like: “This is getting heated. I need a few minutes to think through what I want to say” or “Can we talk about this after dinner?, I think it is better if we are not hungry and tired”.
Tip 2: Communicate Respect. If a “time-out” is not possible, try to stop the negative pattern by showing respect and acknowledging the importance of the other person's concern. “I can see you are very troubled by this", or "I understand honesty and fairness are important to you”.
Tip 3: Use “I” Statements. Say “I can't think straight when you pound your fist on the table” instead of using “you” statements that cause the other person to become defensive, retaliate and up the ante.
Tip 4: Use Active Listening. Sometimes the other person just needs to be heard. If you listen with genuine interest and ask questions about why they are upset, they might calm down. Let's look at the following scenario:
Jane: “I can't believe you did that after I told you not to.”
Paul “You're raising your voice, so I know you're upset.”
Jane: “I have to raise my voice, you never listen.”
Paul: “I am listening now. I'd like to talk about this but without the shouting. When you shout it is distracting and I can't concentrate. I know this is important to you and I want to be able to focus on what you're saying. Can we start again? How did I upset you?”
Tip 5: Use Humour. Sometimes humour can de-escalate the conversation, if the argument hasn't gone too far. Saying something like “Oh no, here we go again…” might help.
Tip 6: Say Something then Leave. If the conversation is becoming hostile say something like: “It is not okay with me to be treated like this, I am going for a walk, hopefully we can talk about this later”.
Tip 7: Leave. Sometimes saying anything fuels the flames of a fight, so it is best to not say anything at all and just walk away. If appropriate, bring up the issue at another time.
Take Away Tip: L. A. S. T. Technique
Watch yourself over the next few days. Become aware when an argument is starting to escalate. If it does – remain calm, lower your voice and try to keep the situation private. Use the L. A. S. T. Technique to determine your best options.
L: Listen – Listen to the other person and pay attention to what she or he is saying.
A: Assess – Assess the situation, is now a good time to resolve the conflict or is a “time-out” better?
S: Stop – If it is the best solution, take a “time-out” and plan a time to return to the conversation.
T: Turn Away – Sometimes it is best to just leave the situation and get out of the line of fire, if appropriate bring up the issue later when the situation is under control.
Studies show that if a harmful pattern like escalation is not corrected it will cause significant damage to any relationship. In marriage, escalation will send a couple into a downward spiral that ends in divorce 98% of the time. (John Gottmann PhD, Gottmann Institute, Seattle, Washington).
In the workplace, escalation will bring about stress, resentment, lack of productivity, and high turnover. If you are not successful in making changes yourself, find a professional to help you.
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