What to Do in the Middle of a Conflict

Degrees of Self in the midst of a conflict

  1. You are so solidly in Self that you won’t be triggered very easily no matter what the other person says.
  2. You are in enough Self that you can communicate well but you could still be triggered pretty easily. Continue but look out for getting triggered.
  3. You are aware that you are having a communication problem and mildly triggered.  You need a moment to gather yourself, return to Self, decide what to say, and then you can communicate well.
  4. You are aware that you are having a communication problem but so triggered that you need a time out before you can communicate well.
  5. You are lost in the conflict, highly triggered and not aware of it. First you must notice the problem.

Realizing there is a Problem. One of the most important aspects of good communication is realizing there is a communication problem as soon as possible after things get off in an interaction. The sooner you notice, the less charged things will be. Often the first thing you notice is that the other person is triggered and communicating badly. When this happens, immediately look at yourself. It is very likely that you are triggered, too. One way to tell is when you realize that what you are about to say isn’t going to help the situation. You can also ask: What do I feel toward the person? What am I trying to accomplish by what I am about to say? How charged up am I? If you are triggered, you must regain Self before anything else.

Getting to Self. You can begin by noticing your degree of Self and taking appropriate action to get to the high levels of Self (1 & 2). If appropriate, mention to the other person that there is a communication problem and invite them to join you in trying to communicate better. Saying this is an important moment because you have switched from talking about the issue to talking about communication. If needed, you can ask the other person to give you a moment to get centered so you can communication more effectively.

If you suggest a time out, explain that you need to take time out to be able to communicate in a helpful way. You need to cool down, explore what got triggered in you, and get into a non-reactive place. Tell the other person when you would like to talk again—10 minutes, an hour, tomorrow morning. This way they won’t feel abandoned. If appropriate, invite them to also explore what happened to them.

What to Do Next. When you have regained Self, you can immediately begin to apply your knowledge of skillful communication. Start with deciding whether to express yourself or listen to the other person. If the other person is still quite triggered, expressing yourself may not work. You may have to listen to their feelings first until they feel heard and have calmed down. Then you can express yourself. If you are triggered enough that you can’t really listen to them from Self, then you must take a time out.

If you are in Self and they aren’t, you can try listening to them. If that doesn’t help them to feel heard and calm down, bring up to them that there is a communication problem and ask them what they would like to do about it. You may need to ask them to consider taking a time out. Do this in a way that doesn’t blame them for the problem.