Are you able to keep your cool when caught up in road rage or discussing money problems or being judged by someone else? These are triggers for most of us but we don’t have to be ruled by these triggers. Learning how to ‘disarm’ a situation or person, is a way you can keep your cool and take control, even when others are angry and not afraid to show it!
Disarming means displaying behaviours that subconsciously motivate the other person to chill out, allowing you both to keep your cool and have a reasonable debate. If you can master these simple behaviours, you are far more likely to get what you want out of a situation.
After a heated incident, you may realise, that you weren’t thinking clearly because you were under pressure in that burning moment. Your heart was probably beating fast as adrenaline was released into your body, and thoughts were maybe flying at you at high speed. You often feel that the only way to respond to an angry, yelling person is to either give in to their demands or get angry and yell right back, right?
It doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to keep your cool. Disarming can buy you time and options by reducing the emotion of the situation. When everything has calmed down, you can still choose to express your feelings (appropriately), make an assertive request in a respectful, healthy manner, walk away, or hold fast to your position.
There are 3 steps to the process–not that you have to use all 3 steps in a real situation. You can bail at any time if you feel unsafe or there’s no reason to continue.
Clarify the Specifics
Set aside your reactions for a minute, and listen to what the other person is saying, even if they are totally out of order. By asking your self-appointed critic for specifics, you are showing interest in their point of view, which makes it harder for them to maintain their anger. When a person has to clue in to details, they move away from offensive over-generalisations and labels. This helps both of you see the real size of the problem. “I’m angry because you’re always late when we meet up,” is a lot easier to deal with than “You disrespectful idiot, you don’t care about anyone but yourself!”
Here are some questions you can ask the other person to help you both keep your cool.
- “What do you mean by saying…”
- “Do I really do that a lot? Wow, I’m sorry, I didn’t even realise.”
- “Can you give me some examples?”
- “When/where was this? How did it happen? Who else was there?”
If you feel safe, but the other person is still upset and you want to move towards resolving the issue, move on to Step 2: find something (anything) in what they are saying with which to agree. This will really help you both keep your cool.
If you don’t feel safe, or if it seems pointless to continue because the other person is drunk, high, or just getting more upset, then leave. If you have a relationship with the person that you value in the long term, tell them that you want to talk about it later when you’re both in a better head space.
Find a Point of Agreement
This strategy aims at convergence toward a solution. You DON’T have to agree with everything they say–in fact, if you just pretend to understand, they will detect your insincerity and the situation will devolve from there. If you can really jump on board some little part of your critic’s train of thought, it opens the door for them to do the same for you, and may surprise them enough to make them cool down further. Here are a few starting points for agreement that you can try:
- Agree with the principle: You can agree with their values without validating their anger at you or their understanding of the facts–“Yes, it’s really annoying when people are late.”
- Agree to a small grain of truth: Find some little point in their complaint that you can agree with, even if you don’t agree with everything they’re saying–“It’s true, I am late, sometimes.”
- Agree with their feelings: Even if their facts are off, you can agree with how they feel–“I don’t like it when people are late, either. It makes me feel disrespected too.”
- If you did it, admit it: “You’re right, I’m late a lot.”
Now that you’ve narrowed the problem down and allowed the complainant to blow off some steam by offering a start at an agreement, you’re in a far better position to respond than when the situation was escalating. Here are some options:
- Buy time: “Can I have some time to think this over and get back to you with some ideas on how to resolve this?”
- Let the person know it’s their problem: “I’m a busy person, and I can’t promise I’ll never be late again. It happens.”
- Promise to avoid doing what they don’t like: “I’ll set an alarm in advance of our appointments in the future to avoid being late.”
- Propose another solution or ask what they want you to do.
It’s perfectly normal to react in emotion–defending yourself or getting back at someone–when you feel you’re under attack, but it doesn’t help you or your critic. In his essay “On Anger” (De Ira), the Roman Stoic thinker Seneca (c. 4 BC-65 AD) argues that anger is the most destructive passion: “No plague has cost the human race more dear.” This was proved by his own life, which he barely preserved under one wrathful emperor, Caligula, and lost under a second, Nero. If only they’d managed to keep their cool!
Don’t ever lie to a person to disarm them and get out from under the problem, as this will damage your credibility and weaken future attempts to disarm that individual. Sarcasm and anger will be like a lit match on gunpowder, so watch out for this. If you’re respectful, reasonable and in charge of your own emotions and behaviours no matter what the other party decides to do, they will eventually be disarmed and more interested in hearing what you have to say, all the while you keep your cool.
If you struggle with keeping your cool and would liked to be coached on how to get the outcome you desire from situations book in a free call with me, I’m here to help 🙂