Diffusing Difficult Conversations

A crowdsourced lesson — with an introduction

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Recently, I turned to my twitter followers to see if they had any tips on how to turn down the temperature on heated conversations. After all, when conversations escalate, people tend to stop listening—and get too emotional to think clearly. So, the conversation stops.

Now one might think that the source of the anger is due to disagreement, but often conflict actually arises because people feel unheard and misunderstood. Those are things that can be easily addressed without having to necessarily agree.

That said, while figuring out points of agreement may be difficult, if you can find some real things to agree on, no matter how small, it helps your conversational partner view you less as opposition and more as a partner. That way you can begin to explore together, rather than argue.

Phrases like: “I can see where you’re coming from…” “That’s an interesting perspective,” and “thank you for sharing with me,” are all good additions to your toolkit. Repeat to them what you think you’ve understood from their comments, both reinforcing that you’ve been actively listening and giving them a chance to correct themselves if needed. Focus on what the person is saying, rather than the person themselves. Treat them as if you assume that their intentions are good (eg. “I know you’re coming from a good place and didn’t mean to be hurtful…”). The more you can keep yourself grounded, slow-paced, and relaxed, the more it will positively affect the other person too.

But I did say that this was a crowdsourced lesson, so, here are some of my favorite responses:

And, when all else fails:

Also highly recommend reading this piece by the always thoughtful Angel Eduardo with three additional tips!

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