Print full article

Communication skills 101: How to stay cool when things heat up

Visualizations (such as relaxing in a hot tub) can help one keep his/her cool
Visualizations can help someone keep his/her cool when faced with a stressful situation or person. One can practice this technique by thinking of a place where he/she feels calm.

The third factor in active listening is backtracking. This is similar to paraphrasing, but rather concentrating on using some of person’s actual words (i.e. essence words). These can also indicate the potential hot spots in a conversation. They are often easy to identify, as these words will be emphasized. By repeating someone’s essence words, they feel heard. The risk someone takes when paraphrasing is they will often change what was said into his/her own words.

Backtracking is an essential technique when dealing with an especially aggressive person. They put great credence in their words; therefore, to make them feel heard, it is important to use some of their essence words when asking questions or summarizing what they have said.

Often, these three communication techniques occur simultaneously—pacing and backtracking while asking clarifying questions.

Exercise verbal aikido to keep cool

The goal of Aikido (a form of martial arts) is to neutralize an attack effectively while maintaining the safety of the attacker and defender. Aikido uses the energy of the attack itself to immobilize the aggressor. For instance, if one pushes, the other pulls, and vice versa; however, should someone push or pull back, it creates conflict.

Selective agreement

The technique of selective agreement involves listening for something in what someone is saying that each party can agree on. Too often, people look for ways to correct or disagree with the other person. The following are some examples:

Instead of: “Are you kidding?”

Use: “Interesting idea; how would you see it being put into action?”

Instead of: “Never heard of anything like that.”

Use: “I hadn’t thought of that. Would you give me
an example so I can understand more clearly?”

Instead of: “Well, of course.”

Use: “I agree. And, I’ve also noticed that…”

A good fallback phrase is, “You may be right, _______.”

The problem is, the latter is often followed by a “but,” which wipes out everything that was said before that. One way to avoid this is to use “and” instead. If using “and” in a response is not grammatically correct, all that is important is to simply think “and.” Doing will help to avoid saying “but.” This simple rule helps people to be better listeners.

Limited response

Limited response is the second technique, and is the best way to respond to sarcasm. When someone throws out a sarcastic remark, it is as though he/she is casting a fishing line with a big hook on the end. The tone is what hooks people. To overcome this, repeat—in one’s head—what they said, only this time without the tone. Then we can respond to the seemingly neutral remark with an equally neutral remark.  This allows someone to respond to the seemingly neutral remark with an equally neutral reply.

Intentional innocence

The final technique, intentional innocence, can be difficult to achieve if someone’s goal is to win or be right. It is all about acting innocent and letting what the other person said simply pass over.

Using psychological and physical techniques

Everyone is human; therefore, it is important to practice calming techniques that can be used when faced with a situation where things have heated up. Psychological and physical practices can be employed to stay cool. Some psychological techniques that can be used include visualizations, symbols, and intercepts, while physical methods include breathing and laughing.


Visualizations are used to spectacular effect by Olympic athletes. Downhill skiers picture the run they are about to take—not about how they might fall.

One can practice this technique by thinking of a place where he/she feels calm (e.g. hiking in the mountains, fishing, on a beach, reading a book, playing music, or soaking in a hot tub). The purpose is to be able to recapture the feeling they have when they are there. In fact, actors call this ‘sensory recall,’ and use the technique to get into the mood of a scene or the emotions of their character.

Visualizations can help someone keep his/her calm when faced with a stressful situation or person.

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *