Want to stop fighting? Have you ever been in an “almost car accident?” You almost got sideswiped. Someone was in your blind spot and you just missed that van. Maybe you were stopped at a light and the person behind you wasn’t paying attention and stopped just in time.
Do you remember how your body felt?
You probably had a rush of adrenaline, felt amped up for a while, and you were hyper-vigilant. Maybe you had tunnel vision, your breathing was faster, and your heart was kicking at full pace. You may also have lost feeling in your arms.
These are all biological things that happen when your body anticipates trauma. The body wants blood to stay at your core, you pay attention more to get out of a situation, and you may lose the ability to hear unimportant things. The same thing happens when we fight with a friend, boss, or partner. If we can’t notice our body, react, and have a future plan, we’re bound to make bad decisions during an argument.
The marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman discovered that successful couples stop fighting when their heart beats per minute rise above 100. Why 100? Imagine the blood running through your body, it’s like a bunch of roads. There are main highways with smaller exits, and then even smaller side streets. Think of the oxygen in your blood like a car. If you’re going down I-75 at 80 mph and don’t slow down for the exit, you’ll miss it or crash. The same thing is true with oxygen, it can’t get off the exit as well when the heart is racing. So your brain is getting dumber every minute you keep fighting. Effective fighters will stop and make sure that they are not biologically getting stupid during an argument.
Reacting to Triggers
We all have things we brought from childhood: shame, feeling like we don’t measure up, we’re closed off, or whatever guiding beliefs that we were told. When we don’t take the time to examine and challenge those beliefs, we’re bound to react to triggers inappropriately. Say your father criticized you when you dd your best on homework. A trigger may be when you try your best and get criticized. What happens if this goes unexamined and challenged? Imagine you feel your boss or partner criticizes you and you feel you do your best, you’ll probably react as if you’re talking to your father, not the actual person you’re talking to.
So how do we examine and challenge? It’s actually pretty hard, we have lived in this body forever. Thus, it feels normal. One question might be, “What’s not working for you?” What beliefs do you have about yourself and the world, do others agree? Those that disagree, why? If it’s true, shouldn’t everyone agree? Once you examine, you can challenge those beliefs. Do this by doing mini-experiments that make you think differently. I met a guy at a conference, he told me that he had a belief that if he danced people would think he’s ridiculous and stupid. This guy was in his mid-forties. He challenged that by hitting the dance floor one night and totally rocked it out. Belief challenged.
First, you have to examine what’s going on biologically, the evaluate your triggers. Next challenge them to see if your belief is accurate. In doing this, you’ll stop fighting and begin to have productive conversations.
Joe Sanok is a business consultant who works with teams and organizations to get more done. He has a top ranking business podcast, The Practice of the Practice, which gets over 100,000 downloads per month. Joe has been featured in Forbes and Huffington Post.