The Best Way to De-Escalate an Argument

by Elle Hanson ; Updated September 28, 2017

The ability to de-escalate an argument is important in all relationships.

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Anger is not just an emotion, but a physiological response. When someone is angry, his body goes into fight or flight mode and he becomes entirely unable to discuss, reason or talk calmly. The best way to de-escalate an argument is to calm the person down enough so he can talk about the problem in a productive manner. When someone is angry at you, it is natural for you to respond in kind. However, to de-escalate the argument, you must go against your instincts and remain calm.

Remain as calm as possible. If your breathing starts to get fast or you notice muscular tension, these are signs that you are starting to feel angry. Combat these physiological responses with slow, deep breaths. If you feel yourself start to tense, force yourself to relax.

Ask the other person to sit down. Just the simple act of sitting will calm her down immensely, because it will signal to her body that she is not in enough danger to be standing. If she refuses to sit, don't try to convince her. However, it is important to remain in a similar position. In other words, both of you should either be sitting or standing.

Maintain a relaxed, open body posture. Avoid reaching into your pockets or touching the other person, as she may subconsciously perceive it as a threat. Instead, keep your arms at your sides and your legs slightly apart.

Keep your expression passive. Laughing, rolling your eyes, smiling or looking intimidated will fuel the other person's anger.

Avoid interrupting him, as he will interpret this as defensiveness on your part. Instead, wait until he stops talking or takes a breath to speak.

Avoid responding to criticisms or emotionally abusive statements. This will only validate his anger and inappropriate behavior. Remember that you won't be able to reason with the person until he has been calmed down.

Speak in a calm tone and say, "I understand that you are angry. I want us to talk about this calmly so that we can fix the problem."

Ask the person if she wants to take a break in the argument if she isn't calming down. You can also say, "I want to talk about this, but I don't think we're getting anywhere right now. I'm going to take a break for a little while, but I'll be back when I think I can have a productive discussion with you." After this, it is important to physically separate yourself from the other person.

Explore the problem that created the argument once both of you are calm enough to do so. To do this, validate the other person's feelings, concede when you are wrong and avoid tearing her down. Remember to focus on problem behaviors rather than the person. Saying, "I get upset when you criticize me in front of friends," is much better than, "You are a total jerk for always badmouthing me."

Do not allow the other person to berate you as you discuss the issue. If this happens, try to redirect him by summarizing his statement in a more appropriate way. For example, if he says, "You are so lazy! I come home from work and you have done nothing all day," you might respond with, "It makes you angry when I don't get all my housework done." If this does not work, say, "I know you are angry at what I did, but it really hurts when you attack me as a person. Can we focus on problem behaviors rather than degrade each other's character?"

Look for a solution after both people's thoughts and feelings regarding the issue have been adequately discussed. You can gateway into problem-solving by asking, "What can we do so that this won't happen again?"

Tips

  • If the other person is a family member or close friend, it may be appropriate to seek counseling if you cannot resolve your differences effectively on your own.

Photo Credits

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