• Natalie Hartney, LPC NCC

De-escalate? I'm ready to go through the roof!

First: See last post for tips to "get control of yourself!"


Then, prepare for the conversation you want to have. I will often suggest to clients to create a sort of mission statement. I call this the "Conversation Plan." This is not necessarily to share. It is more of an opportunity to organize your thoughts: What would you like to express? What is the purpose of expressing it? What is it you hope to gain? What boundary have you identified? What are the consequences for not observing the boundary?  Be very thoughtful as you answer these questions.


Let's return to the "late to the movie" example from the last post. Clearly, this thing can spin out of control, even though it is hardly an earth shattering thing. So, a sample conversation plan could look something like this:


What to express: I would like to express my frustration that I was waiting in the parking lot  for you and you didn't call to let me know that you were running late and when you'd be there.


The purpose: I was feeling very self conscious watching others walk by. I didn't know when you were going to arrive, and I worried that you weren't coming at all. It felt really crappy and I don't want to feel like that again.


I hope to gain an understanding: that I won't find myself in this situation again.


The boundary that I have identified: I need to be called if you are going to be late.

The consequence: I will not wait. If I do not receive a call, then I will just go into the movie. 


Okay-We have the starting place. Now, being an effective communicator, you enter a conversation using "I Statements" but then you can feel the temperature rising. It's getting heated, and louder, and suddenly you realize the conversation has careened off the rails, and the lumpy potatoes at last Thanksgiving's dinner are being yelled about. WTH?? This is why we need de-escalation techniques.

Here is a primer... start with speaking your truth.


1. Remember your goal and stay focused on it. 

2. State your point then compassionately disengage.

3. Use humor or touch as appropriate to diffuse.

4. Release yourself from the idea that you can control your partner's reaction.

5. Listen with a real intent to hear. Don't worry about being heard. Speak, then really listen.

6. Gently (not condescendingly) redirect the conversation back to the topic at hand. A good way to say this is, "I hear you. We can definitely talk about that, but right now, I'd like to wrap up this conversation."

7. You'd be amazed at how little you hear. Really listen, and check in to make sure you are clearly understanding your partner. And, finally,

8. Be aware if you are getting activated. Feel yourself, and take a break or take a breath to relax. If you feel threatened, get to safety. Otherwise, recognize that you are responsible if you are feeling activated.


These are several suggestions, and I could offer several more. Just keep in mind that these are strategies and must be practiced. It isn't a series of tricks or ploys. Employing these strategies prepares you to be a better partner, who accepts responsibility for your feelings, and sets boundaries in a healthy way. 

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