Six Quick Ways to Diffuse an Argument

by Taru Fisher on March 14, 2016

Cool Off: “Sea Lions Upclose” Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at
People’s higher reasoning abilites shut off when they are angry. If your stomach knots and you know the argument is escalating or you hear yourself shouting, STOP. Call for a time out, remove yourself from the physical situation. Let your partner know you will be back when you have calmed down.

Report with Accuracy: Sometimes when we are annoyed or angry we exaggerate our expericences. We tell a story that emphasizes what is wrong according to our perspective, making our position right. Physically step to a different location and report what you are feeling: “When you said ‘x’, I felt ‘y’. Describe what you are seeing or hearing as if you were a recording device: “I saw your pajamas on the floor, your bed covers scrunched up, your gym clothes piled on the floor. I heard you say in a loud voice, ‘I can’t find my iPad. Where did you put it?’” The more we use simple, unadorned and non- judgemental language to describe a situation the more likely we can keep communicating during a disagreement.

Step to the Side: Conflict is fueled by a face-to-face position. In martial arts one technique to diffuse or redirect power is to step to one side so that your opponent has nothing to “push” against. This works in verbal confrontations as well. When you are standing side by side with your “opponent” both of you can face the situation and direct your attention to it rather than towards each other.

Do-overs: You can also think of this as “rewinding.” Ask your partner to play along, make a rewinding noise and “play” the last moments backwards in your mind (like a film running backwards) to a point before the hurtful words were said. Then start again and use the techniques described here, to help you communicate what you really want to say.

Step into your Partner’s shoes: When we can see the world through someone else’s eyes we can understand their behavior, we can understand their motivations and their logic. To facilitate this understanding, move to where your partner is standing, adopt their physical posture and tonality, use their words. This will help you understand what they are trying to get for themselves, their positive intention. When you think you understand, explain what you have learned and let your partner confirm, explain, and elaborate. Once you understand, compare their positive intention to yours. This will open up the argument giving you avenues for resolution and further understanding.

“Get out of Jail Free” Card: All of us can get into a mood. Practice recognizing your’s and your partner’s triggers. Gently ask if they are out of sorts or having a bad day and what is going on. Set your intention to be unconditionally loving with them. Sometimes a hug can heal a mountain. Request a “get out of jail free” card when you are stressed or grumpy and it is not related to your partner.

Diffuse Your arguments with Practice"Origami Elephant Of Love" Image courtesy of Nirutfdp at
Read this over with your partner. Create a new contract to use these tools the next time conflict is looming (or even before!). At first you may feel ridiculous or too angry to want to try something new. Keep at it, as you practice you will find yourself using the tools naturally and effortlessly.

Here is one more technique for diffusing arguments:
"He Says, She Says" Technique (Audio)

Image Attributions:
"Sea Lions Upclose" Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at
"Origami Elephant Of Love" Image courtesy of Nirutfdp at

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