Have you ever heard an opinion that set off a fire in your heart? Everything in you screamed, “I must set this person straight.” I know I have. It takes a great deal of self control and patience to stay out of trouble in situations like this.
I want my children to handle themselves with grace and love when the conversational heat is on. Equipped with a few tools and focused practice adults and kids can learn to keep their cool while setting the record straight.
- Be patient. The higher the heat the more it may seem like the situation calls for a now or never stance. This is hardly ever the case. As a mother I used to think I had to nip my kid’s conflicts in the bud immediately. By the time the third child was about 10 I had learned that an hour or so for them to cool off worked wonders. Feelings need space to dissolve. The conscience needs time process. It’s the same in conversation. If the heat is rising, take a break and pick up the conversation another time.
- Use “I” instead of “you.” Starting a sentence with “You” is great when you pay someone a compliment. However, during intense conversations it can be like throwing gas on smoldering coals.
- Mimick open, calm behavior. Test yourself on this. What’s your first reaction when you feel uncomfortable? Do you cross your arms? Your legs? Maybe you turn your body to a bit of an angle, placing your back toward the person who is making you feel uncomfortable. The other person gets the message. She might shut down inside or get more defensive. Purposeful open, calm stances during potentially tense moments will tell the other person that you are safe or at least you aren’t looking for a fight.
- Avoid making assumptions. I know what’s going on with me when my gaze drops because someone is pressuring me to do something. In the same situation, another person might feel embarrassed when she lowers her gaze. If I assume the other person feels the way I do in similar situations I am inviting confusion into the mix. Taking action on an assumption is risky business for a relationship.
- Clarify meaning. Ask for feedback. If the other person appears to become tense you might say, “I’m not sure if I am getting my point across in the way I wish. Would you please tell me what you think I am saying?” In the same vein when you feel defensive you can say something like, “I want to make sure I understand what you just said.”
It’s good to practice with these tools in every day conversation when very little is at stake. Practicing in a group can be beneficial too. In our circle of friends we bring our kids together once a month and practice in a group. We call it literature club, or LITClub. The kids read a classic novel, present a project, share a themed meal and talk about the book. It’s during these book discussions that the kids are able to pull out their communication tool box and get a little practice under their belt in a safe environment. It doesn’t seem like much is going on in one little discussion. However, there’s an accumulative effect after practicing month after month. Hopefully, when these kids sit around their dining tables as adults with their friends and acquaintances they will be equipped to discuss important topics with a posture of knowing the other people instead of trying to win disagreements.