Dear Barb,
I seem to be in conflict with so many people and it isn’t just politics or religion. Could people be more argumentative or is everyone desperate to be heard?
Constantly Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,
Our basic impulse to protect ourselves is automatic and unconscious. Conflict wreaks havoc on our brains. Something called Emotional Intelligence (E.I.) is defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and emotions of others.” A low E.I. generally leads to an inability to stay calm, resulting in more conflict. A high E.I. leads to less conflict and the ability to stay calm under pressure. As you may know, conflict is an inevitable part of life. Even the coolest, calmest and most collected person will experience some degree of turmoil. In most cases, people don’t have any control over what happens next. The only aspect we can control is how we react. Overriding this “automatic and unconscious” process isn’t easy. We can learn to recognize, acknowledge and manage our negative emotions even in the midst of an argument. Here is how:

Take a deep breath! You must de-tensify the body. Shallow breathing is the body’s natural response when stressed. Realizing that, you might try inhaling through your nose, slowly out through your mouth.

Focus on your body. Concentrating on the physical, you consciously return your posture to a neutral state by dropping your shoulders and hands, even seating yourself on a chair in a slow manner helps. This body language diffuses conflict.

Actively listen. A person will initiate an argument or some conflict if they feel they are not being heard. It’s impossible to diffuse a conflict without attentive and active listening. Ignore any thoughts of constructing a response. Once the person finishes speaking, you have the necessary information to respond intelligently. Give yourself a minute to construct a response, choosing your words carefully.

Ask open-ended questions. Asking why, what, when and how shows respect for the person by allowing them to articulate their thoughts. Open-ended questions demonstrate that you are listening. Avoid the use of words “do,” “don’t,” “did” and “didn’t” when asking a question, resulting in “yes” and “no” answers. In the heat of the argument, think like an investigator searching for details.

Keep your voice down. The easiest way to escalate conflict is by raising your voice. I suffer from this myself and blame it on hearing loss from playing the drums in band. Truly, one of the easiest ways to diffuse conflict is to lower your voice. Voice level is linked to blood pressure. When blood pressure reaches a certain point, it becomes more difficult to understand what’s being communicated. A conscious decision to lower your voice can quickly cause a sense of calm.

Agree to disagree. Not every conflict will produce amicable or mutually agreeable results. However, you can avoid deepening the conflict by politely disengaging from the conversation. Rules of disengagement apply only if (1) the person becomes increasingly hostile, or if (2) the conversation, despite your best efforts to converse equally is not going anywhere.

These tips given, you should feel more confident in any conflict. Unless you happen to be a self-awareness guru, you will become angry in an argument at some point. Human beings are emotional creatures. Some more sensitive than others. The ability to feel can be used to our advantage or our detriment. It’s important to forgive yourself if you should act in an unbecoming manner, we all do not! Anyone who says otherwise is either a fool, a liar or both. Use your emotions and self-regulation to your benefit. Doing so, you will gain the trust and confidence of the people in your life.

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