I have been planning to write this blog for some time. My chief inspiration has been the coverage of the Brexit negotiations but, sadly, recent events in Syria have made Brexit look almost inconsequential. Still, I think the point I wanted to make holds true.
The words we use in challenging situations matter. They have a profound impact on how we and others experience and respond to the challenging situation and they will impact outcomes for good or ill.
Our thoughts and feelings are twined in a complicated cause and effect relationship. Thoughts include the words we or others choose to use. So, if we or others choose to use dramatic, emotive or attacking words then we can expect to feel the feelings associated with the dramatic, emotive or attacking.
Our Amygdala, our threat detection system, reacts to the dramatic, emotive or attacking with its choice of 3 “keeping you alive” options - Fight, Flight or Freeze. And, crucially, limits the amount of structured thinking we are then able to do in the moment.
Once our Amygdala is running the show you can guarantee that any other action will be interpreted in the most “risk averse” way. To keep you alive it is safest for the Amygdala to assume that any further comment or action from that quarter now constitutes a threat and it will react accordingly and so the challenging situation grows, and the conflict deepens.
So, when President Trump uses his emotive language, know that this is done to engender emotions in the reader or listener. Not necessarily in the subject of the statement - individual or government, but the wider audience - us.
Similarly, when journalists choose to frame headlines in an absolutist manner the goal is to create strong emotions in the reader.
You know all this right? Right.
When you face a challenging situation, a day to day conflict, one of “those” conversations, think about the words you choose with great care. Avoid the absolute, the condemning, the insulting and the sweeping. Be precise, clear, specific and speak adult to adult. And, above all, think about the words coming in from the other side of the conversation, note when your emotional buttons are being pushed and take control back from your Amygdala.
I can’t guarantee a perfect outcome to conflict in every case but if you take this approach you are seriously upping your chances.