How To De-Escalate Holiday Tension

In a world of increasing polarization, there has never been a better time to learn the art of peacemaking. Most of us aren’t taught to manage our emotions or the emotions of others, especially people who see the world very differently. In this respect, we are emotionally incompetent and have difficulty coexisting with people who hold different values.

These days, families can be torn apart over conflicting beliefs. Peacemaking is a skill that takes practice. According to Doug Noll, author of De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less (whom I recently featured on my Pathways interview program), it can be learned, and can greatly improve your emotional intelligence.

What better time to practice this fine art than during the holidays? Imagine this: You’re sitting down to a feast with relatives, a group that includes a cantankerous right-wing uncle (the Republican elephant in the room). Suddenly, this uncle says something obnoxious and hateful. Your first instinct is to problem-solve – to set things straight about the facts, dispute what he’s swallowed from Fox Fake News, etc. But things only get worse and he becomes insulting. An ugly argument ensues and you wonder if you can tolerate holidays with extended family anymore.

In our Pathways interview, Doug reveals how recent advances in neuroscience confirm that we are still largely emotional creatures, with a newer and less compelling rational brain. Emotional intelligence is a learning process, not a facility that is intrinsic by nature. The only way to calm your uncle down is to speak to his emotions, not logic. Never argue against an emotional belief, Doug says, because logic and reasoning cannot change an emotional mind. Arguing against emotional beliefs only strengthens, rather than weakens, them.

Imagine being able to withstand your uncle’s insults, provocations and misinformation without losing your cool. With a little skill, such holiday dread can be avoided. Using Doug’s three easy steps, you can increase empathy, reduce reactivity, increase enjoyment with family, and restore peace at the dinner table (and elsewhere in your life).

First tip: Ignore the words (or so-called “facts”) and listen only to the underlying emotions behind what the person is saying. Express a guess at what they are feeling; the most common emotional reactions are anger, frustration, betrayal, anxiety, fear, sadness or feeling unloved. Label their emotion in words (as in, “you are feeling frustrated”). This helps them gain clarity and provides them the emotional satisfaction of being heard. Rapidly, you will discover that your uncle (or whoever) is calming down and maybe even able to listen a little bit. Only now might there be an opening for problem solving, coming to some level of agreement or understanding.

In essence, the art of emotional intelligence is being able to listen for emotions and using language to keep yourself centered, help you navigate through conflict successfully, resolve issues of contention, and develop deeper empathic connections. With this simple method you can continue to care for someone whose perspective clashes with your own, without becoming derailed or upset. We can feel heard and respected despite differing beliefs, and do the same for others. (There’s so much more in the Pathways interview with Doug Noll… I hope you check it out!)

Unlock Your Creative Mind and Bring Your Ideas to Life

Peter Himmelman is the author of the new book, Let Me Out: Unlock Your Creative Mind and Bring Your Ideas to Life. Peter is the founder of Big Muse, a company that teaches creative thinking, leadership skills, and deeper levels of communication in all facets of life–from personal to professional. As Big Muse has grown in popularity over the last four years, Peter has come to share his program with thousands of individuals, including charitable organizations, start-ups and international brands.

Digital Dharma

Steven R. Vedro discusses Digital Dharma: A User’s Guide to Expanding Consciousness in the Infosphere. Stephen is also a lecturer and nationally recognized telecommunications consultant who has been on the leading edge of both technology and public service for the last twenty years. In the 1980’s he produced the nation’s first television series on consumer electronics for PBS called “The New Tech Times.”