Using the right words to de-escalate conflict

Learn to manage conflict sensitively and calmly, with these handy phrases

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

When emotions are running high, the way we phrase our thoughts and feelings can help keep difficult conversations productive and kind. Next time you’re trying to navigate conflict, use these phrases to help you keep the peace, without neglecting your own needs and boundaries.

I would prefer to return to this conversation when we’re both feeling less emotional

It’s important to understand that you can, and should, put boundaries around arguments and conflict. So often, our emotions can overcome us, making it difficult to express ourselves properly, as well as take in the other person’s points. Remember, you don’t have to continue with a discussion if you’re finding it distressing. So, if you’re struggling to control the things that you’re feeling, put a pin in the conversation, take some time away from it, and return to it with a clear head.

I’m curious why you feel that way

This is a helpful phrase to have to hand, because it’s a non-judgemental way to get to the bottom of what the other person is saying or feeling. When we approach conflict with a sense of curiosity, with the aim being to come to some kind of conclusion, we make room for both self-development and the development of our relationships.

I don’t feel comfortable responding to that now, I need some time to think it over

In the heat of the moment it’s easy to feel pressured to commit to answers to questions, or to have a response to whatever it is that has been presented to you. But, as previously mentioned, you don’t have to remain in a conversation that is distressing to you if you don’t want to. If you find that your mind is scrambled, but that you do want to work on whatever it is that has been brought up, make it clear that you would like an appropriate amount of time to do so.

My understanding of what you’re saying is…

Crossed wires are common when it comes to conflict – in fact, a misunderstanding could be what got you into this situation in the first place. Once the other person has finished speaking, repeat back to them your understanding of their points and their feelings, and give them the opportunity to correct you if something isn’t quite right.

I’m here to listen to you, and then I would like you to listen to me

Setting rules for an argument or discussion is a good way of preventing it from escalating. This also reassures the other person that you’re here to listen to them, and that you’re going to give them the opportunity to make their case before you do the same.

Is this something that we need to agree on?

Sometimes, there’s actually no need to agree on a topic. It might be that you have different opinions on a topical issue, or perhaps you’re discussing a situation where – when you’ve looked it all over – there really wasn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. As the saying goes, agree to disagree, and move on.

Does what I’m saying sound reasonable to you?

This is a way to check-in with the person you’re speaking with, to make sure that they’re following your points. It’s also giving them the opportunity to reflect properly rather than just responding on emotion alone.

I appreciate that you’re willing to have this conversation with me

Avoiding conflict is a lot easier than facing it head-on, calmly and with compassion, so, take a moment to acknowledge this challenge, and thank the person you’re addressing for their willingness to express their position. You can also turn that recognition inwards, and understand that – when done with the right intentions – what you’re working through could really serve you in the future.

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