Seeking to Understand When Things Get Heated

You likely read this title and thought, “Sure, seeking to understand is easy when things are calm, but how does this active listening thing differ when trying to understand someone when one of us is angry?” Great question! It can certainly be difficult to step back and assess the situation when emotions are awry, especially while you’re trying to avoid the conversation escalating further. But asking the right questions at the right time and leaning in with empathy will help you get to the bottom of what that person needs and wants from you.

Put it in the Parking Lot

Sometimes when we are in group meetings, one-on-ones, or even on calls with clients, we reach an impasse when the parties cannot see eye to eye at the moment. This is the best time to agree to “put it in the parking lot”. I never used to understand that concept before, but I recall reaching a deadlock with a colleague of mine. We just didn’t see the other person’s perspective in the moment, but we knew we needed to move on in our discussions, though the topic at hand could not be thrown out altogether. We just needed some time to reflect and maybe see the other person’s opinions. This was the best time to place the discussion to the side without completely downplaying its importance or making the other person feel like their concerns or viewpoint were invalid. Putting something in the parking lot for a later discussion doesn’t minimize the issue or eradicate the discussion. It merely delays it. That way, all parties should be able to come at it later on with a clearer mind.

Walk Away with Respect

There are other times when the best decision you can make for yourself is being the one to respectfully walk away. Or, respecting someone else's decision to do the same. So ask yourself, "Do I see us coming to a conclusion here?" Sometimes the longer the discussion is allowed to go on, the worse things get. 

Now, this does not necessarily mean you're running from or avoiding the issue. Walking away is meant to be your voice of reason that the discussion has clearly moved into destructive waters, and it's best if everyone jumps ship. No good can come from minds blinded by anger or feeling misunderstood. It becomes extremely difficult to articulate our thoughts in the proper way when we've gone overboard. Recognizing that walking away is sometimes necessary, is crucial to keeping your sanity. Especially when involving a group or team, hopefully, everyone can understand the gravity of the situation and respectfully follow suit.

Agree to Disagree

We've all heard this one, right? I personally think agreeing to disagree is one of the hardest paths to choose in a heated discussion. We all want to be heard and understood, but most of the time - we just want to be right. Though the term may sound simple, it takes much more effort to accept that either party will come to a clear finalization of the topic at hand. Nobody "wins." Therefore, sometimes we must agree to disagree and completely move on.

I remember a group of friends chatting about major league baseball and each of them were from different parts of the country, so naturally, many were fans of baseball teams from their home states. Two of them happened to be fans of rival teams and just when you thought the discussion was going in the direction of playful banter, it actually turned into a heated debate. Their friendship was tarnished over this sudden and minuscule disagreement. This is a great example of how agreeing to disagree could have not only prevented this argument but likely saved their relationship. 

The truth is, you can’t agree on everything. Focus on what matters, and let the small things go. Ask yourself how important the issue really is. Are you compromising your beliefs or morals? If yes, it's important that you effectively and respectfully explain why you think your values are impacted and how this makes you feel. If not, maybe this is a time for a tradeoff. Also, consider why the other person has a different view of the situation and outcome. Why are they upset? What does the issue look like from their point of view? Is there a way your behavior can change to positively impact them?

Feeling Heard

You'll always be faced with arguments or disagreements. An inevitable fact of life. There will be times when you'll be able to work things out or, sometimes, be forced to take the high road. The world wouldn't be what it is without opinions, ideas, and voices. When things get heated, step back, really listen, and ask the right questions. We all want our voices to be heard, isn’t that really why arguments start in the first place? Try these tips next time you feel ‘lost in battle,’ and speak your truth, but not at the cost of silencing someone else.

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