Ever say something you regretted immediately after you said it? Picture this – you’re heading home, late again and knowing a fight is about to ensue. You walk through the door and immediately feel the tension. As you approach your spouse, your blood pressure is up, your heart begins to race a bit, and you feel a little flush. The ensuing conversation is all too predictable and leaves you feeling lousy, saying things you didn’t mean. You were focused completely on a strong defense and sought to win the inevitable argument, when in actuality you forgot you are both on the same team! How about a mistake at work, poor performance on the job or a client’s call after a less than stellar performance? What’s that conversation like? Any regretful words or emotions? Again, aren’t we on the same team? Why the defense? Why the antagonistic feelings? Why not intelligently work through the issue to a mutually rewarding conclusion?
Why is it that when things get heated and emotions run strong –whether at home, with a client, with a peer, or just out in the community – we seem to lose some level of sanity and certainly some level of intelligence? Now, some have mastered this challenge – either naturally or through learned behavior. Most of us, however, aren’t even aware of what is happening, when it is happening, until it’s too late.
Fact is when we step into a conversation where opinions differ and emotions run strong, we really do become stupid, or at least less intelligent. Referenced in a book called Crucial Conversations, I read about a study that shows exactly what is going on in our bodies, physiologically, in these heated moments.
Have you ever heard of “fight or flight”? That’s the body’s natural response to a potentially dangerous situation. Whether it’s physical or not, doesn’t matter; our response is the same – we experience redirected blood and oxygen flow to the extremities best suited for fight or flight – muscles! Unfortunately, the most important part of our body, our brain, becomes somewhat starved in the process. Yes, that’s right - we feed our muscles and starve our brain. And you know what less blood and oxygen to the brain means? Stupidity! And we’ve all experienced it.
How do we overcome this? Very carefully, for sure, and much too involved for this short article. But I can offer two simple ideas from the book, Crucial Conversations. First, maintain mutual respect. It’s difficult for respect not to be reciprocal. Attacking is not respectful. You get the idea. Second, maintain mutual purpose. Keep the real issue in sight, not defending your position and attacking theirs, but to accomplish the purpose you both have – the one that is bigger than the moment.
Always make the relationship more important than the situation. That will keep everyone safe!