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!)

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 problem-solving and 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 being 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 being 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 of Doug Noll … I hope you check it out!)

Gentle Discipline

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is the author of the new book, Gentle Discipline: Using Emotional Connection–Not Punishment–to Raise Confident, Capable Kids. Sarah is a popular parenting expert whose blog is read by two million parents each year. A trained prenatal teacher, birth and postnatal doula, and pediatric homeopath, she is also the cofounder of GentleParenting.com. She lives in a 350-year-old cottage in rural Essex, UK with her family, including four school-age children.

Our Dreams for Our Children

Our guest this week on Pathways is Richard Weijo, author of Our Dreams for our Children: Creating Legacies that Inspire Each New Generation to Achieve a Brighter Future. His passion is to inspire the seventy-six million baby boomers to take a comprehensive view of creating legacy by providing a thoughtful planning guide to help them realize how they can enrich the lives of their children, grandchildren, and future generations.

Lewis Richmond: A Whole Life’s Work

Lewis Richmond discusses his book, A Whole Life’s Work, a sequel and companion to his first book, Work as a Spiritual Practice. Richmond is a direct disciple of Zen Buddhist Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and a lineage holder in his tradition. Lew founded the Vimala Sangha in 2003 as a vehicle for the continuation of Suzuki-Roshi’s teaching, and as a way to develop “Householder Zen” — the path of Zen practice and teaching by people leading busy lives, with job, home, and family.

Family Resilience

Po Bronson shares his book, Why Do I Love These People? Honest and Amazing Stories of Real Families. Po also wrote What Should I Do With My Life? in addition to several novels. His second novel The first 20 Million is Always the Hardest was released as a feature film in 2002 by 20th Century Fox. Po is also a founder of the Grotto, a cooperative writing space in San Francisco.

How to Negotiate with Kids

Scott Brown, author of How to Negotiate with Kids, is a founding member of the acclaimed Harvard Negotiation Project, and brings his negotiating skills to the parenting arena. A parent of four himself, he realized that parents can apply the same negotiating skills used at work to their home life. Brown first explains the difference in negotiating styles, which can be summarized as “hard bargaining” and “accommodating.” Put simply, the former want to lay down the rules while the latter may be too willing to give in to their children’s demands. The key to using negotiation tactics successfully as a parent is to “balance coercion with persuasion.”

Ready, Set, Grow

Lynda Madaras discusses her book, Ready, Set, Grow — A What’s Happening to My Body Book for Younger Girls. Lynda is the author of eleven books on health, childcare, and parenting. She is recognized worldwide for her unique non-threatening style, excellent organization, and thorough coverage of the experience of adolescence. She lives in California.

When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us

Jane Adams, Ph.D. talks about her book, When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us: Letting Go Of Their Problems, Loving Them Anyway, and Getting On With Our Lives. She has spent over two decades researching and reporting on how Americans live, work, and love, and especially how they respond to social change. A frequent media commentator, she has published more than a hundred articles, essays and columns in national magazines and newspapers and is the author of eight nonfiction books.