When you get into an argument, you’re clearly trying to get across a certain point. And if you’re being totally honest, you’d probably love nothing more than to “win” that fight and prove your conflict companion wrong. There are a few ways to react to arguments, and while none of them are wrong, per se, there’s one course of action in particular that’s likely to torpedo any odds of you winning the verbal altercation: losing your cool.
“People will often remember how you say something more than what you say,” says counselor David Klow, LMFT, author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist. “The way in which you communicate your message makes a difference: If you get angry during an argument, the point you’re trying to make will often get lost.”
Furthermore, yelling, screaming, and losing control of your emotions during an argument instantly makes you seem subordinate to the person with whom you’re in confrontation, clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life.
“If you get angry during an argument, the point you’re trying to make will often get lost.” —David Klow, LMFT
Ultimately, losing your cool isn’t the most healthy way to respond to any conflict, says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. And the reason for that goes beyond the matter of who’s going to win the argument at hand. “People get worked up in a sympathetic, nervous-system haze, which results in wear and tear on our bodies if it keeps happening,” she says. And if people in your life come to know that you’re someone who often responds this way to conflict, the result can be that they avoid discussing important issues with you, she says. After all, just as no one wants to walk into a burning building, no one wants to ignite a situational fuse that might lead to a blowup from you. That said, if you tend to lose your cool during arguments, all is not lost: there are strategies you can invoke to change the habit.
Below find 3 tips to change your argument style and keep your cool.
1. Take a walk
The classic way to regain your composure is to walk—not storm—away, Dr. Durvasula says. This helps to acknowledge that, in the heat of the moment, you may not be able to say things in a levelheaded way, she says.
When you step away, Dr. Mayer recommends repeating a few mantras to help you calm down and contextualize the issue at hand. Use phrases like, “How do I figure out this problem?” “How do I win here?” or “What is my power here?” until you calm down. “The key is to adopt a model that tells you that you have to think your way out of this,” he says. “Act and respond from power—not emotion.”
It’s also important to keep close tabs on your emotions when you start to get into an argument. “While sometimes it can feel like our temper raises to a boiling point instantly, often if we pay close attention, we might notice ourselves getting mildly irritated or agitated before things escalate,” Klow says. “Try to catch yourself and change the way you’re communicating before you get too worked up.”
2. Set a timer
If you really struggle with this and often argue with the same person, like your significant other, Dr. Durvasula recommends setting a timer. “Each person gets three to five minutes during which there can be no interruptions,” she says. “The other person can take notes or the like, but the one person must be allowed to talk uninterrupted and then the other.”
3. Work on mindfulness when you’re not fighting
And finally, Dr. Durvasula says it’s important to work on your issues outside of when the arguments actually occur. “Rage-y, yelling arguments often take place because people misperceive or personalize things that are not personal—they are arguing about something that is not even relevant to the issue at hand,” she says. “Work, whether in therapy, or through doing deeper mindfulness work, means stopping and remembering the mantra ‘do not personalize this.’” If you can work to get some emotional distance from the argument and attempt to see the other person’s point of view, it can cool things down, she says.
If losing your cool in arguments is a constant issue for you, it may be a smart strategy to talk about it with a mental-health professional. Changing your argument style requires time and work, Klow says, and a professional can help guide you through it until you get things right.
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