art work by John Ceprano
CINERGY (tm) - Peacebuilding... one person at a time

“Settle Down”

It often seems that phrases like, “settle down”, “just calm yourself”, “you don’t need to get upset”, etc. lead to increased defensiveness and other negative reactions, rather than less, as the speaker likely hoped. Hushing hand gestures result in the same sort of negative response. That is, comments or gestures of this nature are usually experienced as dismissive and undermining. Those on the receiving end generally resent that their views and feelings are being quieted, put down, or minimized.

What is more, though it may not be the intention, using such statements or physical messages – in an apparent attempt to quiet another – sets up a sort of power imbalance. The person stating or doing them appears to be superior and somehow in charge or in control of the situation and the other person. There is even the appearance of an adult admonishing a child, or a teacher shushing a student.

Why do we use these techniques? Not to support using the words or actions described here, it may be that when we try to calm another it is due to being at a loss about how to have a discussion that does not escalate or go off topic. There may be some urgency and frustration and a sense the other person we are trying to quiet is derailing the conversation. We may fear our own emotions or the other person’s. We may consider emotions as a sign of weakness or a manipulative ploy. In any case, “settle down” and other phrases and actions aiming to quiet another do not usually work to do anything helpful to the interaction.

How to respond as to not shut off the person or conversation, to acknowledge the emotions, and not be put off by them are all challenges for conflict masterful people to overcome. So, if you tend to use statements such as, “settle down” or make hushing gestures to the other person with whom you are in conflict, or someone says or does such things to you, consider this week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions):

  • When someone has said or done something in an effort to quiet you, what specifically did she or he say or do?
  • What was that like for you?
  • What do you think was going on for the other person to have said or done that?
  • What did you say or do in response? What did you want to say back that you did not?
  • What could the other person have said or done instead that would have been more effective for you?
  • Thinking of a specific situation in which you have made a statement or gesture such as ones referred to in this blog, what specifically did you say or do?
  • What do you think compelled you to say or do that?
  • How did the other person respond?
  • How was her or his response consistent with what you were hoping for? How was it not consistent?
  • Thinking about it now, what may have been a more conflict masterful approach?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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