Merge's Blog

“Just calm down” never works!

Businessman trying to calm down his upset negotiation partnerWe’ve all done it – said “just calm down” to another person in a situation of conflict. And I’m willing to bet it’s NEVER worked. Truth be told, saying “relax” or “calm down” (or even “take a chill pill”) is more likely to intensify or prolong the anger and exasperation. These phrases don’t bring stress levels down; instead they are virtually guaranteed to trigger further hostility and escalate the state of affairs. While your intention may have been honorable, the outcome is rarely successful. Inadvertent perhaps, but these types of statements only imply that the other person is unable to control themselves; and even though you may not have meant to, it feels to them like they are being treated like children. Ergo, the sure-fire negative reaction.

So what should you say? Your objective is to acknowledge the other person while trying to gently remind them that there is a more positive alternative to dealing with the situation. Phrases such as “Let’s take a few minutes to regroup and then we can come back to this discussion” or “I can see that this whole situation has upset you” are less likely to be received as put-downs. A statement of positive intent such as “I’d really like to come to a resolution” can also work wonders. Keep in mind that these alternatives will only work if your tone is genuine, so pay attention not just to your words, but also how you say them.

Well, what other approaches have you used to de-escalate angry situations? What are some of your favourite (and successful) phrases? Do tell.

P.S. For another real-life success example of communicating with empathy and understanding, check out this linked blog post from 2010.

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