Most advice about how to stay calm during an argument gives you a list of sensible things to do. But here’s the thing – we already know we should take deep breaths, listen well, and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We would do it if we could. We’ve tried. It didn’t work.
Let’s face it, whether it’s a relationship argument, or a business argument, arguments happen. We need to be equipped to deal with them.
The Problem is…
Something happens in the intense moments with our most important people – we go into a crazy zone where pain, fear, anger, and bad memories rule, we can’t think a straight thought and the same reactions we’ve always had kick in again.
For you, it may be attack mode, or you might find yourself mentally frozen, unable to think. You also might have the impulse to just get away as fast as you can.
The “Marathon of Emotional Stamina”
It might help to compare a terrible argument to a marathon – both of them are really hard to get through without doing damage.
No one goes from a stroll in the park to finishing a 26-mile run. So why do we think we can dive into a gnarly issue with a loved one and come out victorious if we haven’t trained ourselves in what to do with all those emotions and memories?
Let’s tackle the issue of how to stay calm during an argument in stages:
How To Stay Calm During An Argument – Basic Training
Understand Brain Science
Minus the jargon, here’s how it works – when we feel threatened our brain leaves the rational thinking zone and jumps back into its basic survival mode, with either a fight, flight or freeze reaction. Once that takes over, we can’t process much and we can’t control ourselves. We really need to understand this.
Know When To Quit
It’s crucial to know when you are in survival mode and have a good sense of when the other person is too. If one of you is in this survival mode, things probably won’t end well. It’s best to call a time out to give yourself a chance to calm down and regain mental and emotional control in another space.
Don’t just storm off. Say something like, “I need time out to calm down and I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”
How to Stay Out of Survival Mode
Control your breathing, keep your volume down, keep your body from moving too much. If you stay conscious of these things, you’re still in the right zone. Maybe it would help to imagine yourself in some calm place. Then focus on the other person, really listen to them, and be willing to rephrase what they’re saying so they know you heard.
Follow the Rules
- No put-downs
- Stick to the subject
- Pick a quiet time and place
- No alcohol
Intermediate Argument Training
OK, so now you know when you’re in survival mode, you know when to time out, and you know how to keep yourself out of survival mode when there are no real monsters around. You’re drilled on the rules that hold society together.
Let’s move on and find out how to stay calm during an argument – the more intermediate way:
Make sure you’re in the right headspace before you open the discussion. Remind yourself about how you feel about this person most of the time. If you love or care about them, keep that front and center.
Ask yourself if you have a solution in mind. You’re far more likely to get what you need if you know what it is, and you’ve planned how to explain it.
Be honest with yourself – are you wanting a solution that works for both, or are you in competitive mode, just trying to win? The other person can sense this.
You’re both trying to keep your sanity here, so help the other person as much as you can. If it’s someone close, touch can be calming. Holding a hand or putting an arm around them can often calm both of you.
Own up to your part of what’s wrong. If there’s anything you know you should apologize for, just do it. What’s more important – the relationship or your pride?
If you’re arguing with someone who’s upset, don’t tell them to calm down. That never goes over too well. Model by staying calm yourself.
Know Your Triggers
Again, this is work you do ahead of time. The more aware you are of what is likely to trigger your brain to jump into fight, flight, or freeze, the better for both of you. If partners and close friends know what you struggle with, they can try to avoid the triggers. (Although how you respond is still on you.)
For instance, if you were abandoned suddenly by a parent as a child, you might be triggered by your partner leaving your home without telling you where they’re going. If you tell them why it helps you to know, they can make the effort. But if you don’t realize that’s a trigger, you can’t tell them. They might be hurting you without even knowing it. They also may be thinking your questions are an attempt to control them rather than a plea for reassurance.
Advanced Argument Training
You know you’re a relational ninja when you can argue with all the above in mind, plus practice these:
Truth Over Ego
Ask yourself, “Am I really interested in what’s best for both of us, or do I just want to feel good about myself?” If you can face up to when you’re defending your ego and when you are truly searching for the truth, you’re in a good place.
Use Empathy To Learn How To Stay Calm During An Argument
Some of us are better at empathy than others, but in an argument, it’s a discipline for everyone. If we really understand the heart of the other person, we fear that we’ll lose some of our clout. But actually, empathy is a brave thing. If we can get to that place where we really want to know how the other is experiencing this argument and what they need, we’re automatically calm and we’re about to learn something that will help us both.
Work Your Core Issues
When past pain is processed and resolved, it loses its power to trigger us. By getting the help we need to do this, we find we have more space for peaceful discussions. We have less to get defensive about. Our power to stay calm is multiplied.
Now you know how to stay calm during an argument…
Internalise the above methods, and next time you enter an argument, don’t overthink it, have confidence you are equipped to handle it the right way.