Sometimes during the morning commute I find myself listening to a particular radio station that does a segment where they prank call someone who has been set up by someone they know. This perfect stranger calls them and gives them a bad time about something particular to them. Inevitably the person receiving the call tries hard to keep it together, but gets upset and looses their cool before they find out it is a prank call and have been set up. For the most part these are funny, though sometimes uncomfortable to listen to, and it never fails to get me thinking why the person on the phone hangs on so long to put up with the conversation. Why do we hang on so long? Why do we let a conversation get to the point where we are getting upset and annoyed? The guy from the segment this morning did very well. He gave it a valiant effort and for a moment I thought he might be able to keep his cool, but alas, he understandably got upset.
Another (real life) example…getting in a disagreement with our kids or loved ones. Working with teens and their families I see this often and try to get parents to disengage from an upsetting conversation with their teenager. I find myself trying to convince them that disengaging can be beneficial in putting an end to the power struggle they find themselves in.
Do we hold on to these conversations because we feel the need to prove a point? Feel heard, understood, or validated? Do we feel like if we disengage it means the other person “won?” Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the whole picture.
Do we get so wrapped up in the argument that we don’t even know it’s happening? Possibly. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes by the time we realize how far we have gotten in the disagreement we are already emotionally invested and the damage has been done. This makes healing and finding validation that much more difficult.
Sometimes taking a break is necessary to get back on track but not everyone sees it that way.
My personal stance on this is that deciding to take a cooling off period is perfectly acceptable, healthy, and helpful. There are some “rules” though and are as follows:
1. Be mindful during the conversation and notice if/when it is getting to be too upsetting and hurtful.
2. Tell the other(s) involved how you are feeling and what your intentions are (brief time to cool off. We are not talking about hours or days here). Do not just storm off but let them know what you are doing. If you don’t communicate this anger may occur.
3. Use this cooling off time NOT to build your arguments and evidence for why you are right and they are wrong but to legitimately let emotions return to a less dominating state. Think about the objectives you want to achieve. Most likely it is realistically not to make the other person feel bad, but for ourselves to feel validated. Communicate that.
4. Do not avoid the conversation but return to it. Remember to ask for what you need from the other person.
This is not to say that any of this is easy, but with practice it can get better. So for now I will continue to be entertained by the radio segment, listening to people take the bait each time and loose their cool, hoping one day someone won’t. I wish you luck on practicing healthy communication and setting boundaries for yourself in the most difficult conversations.