Fight or Flight: How to SLOW DOWN an Argument

Fight or Flight: How to SLOW DOWN an Argument

Ever been in a fight with someone and wish you had shut up and waited for things to settle down? If so, you are not alone. Most of us have vivid memories of moments where silence would have been “golden.”  Since it’s hard to fix the past, let’s focus on future behaviors.

Fight or Flight Instincts

The reason we have trouble controlling ourselves when we feel attacked is the old “reptilian brain” problem. We’re programmed to survive or attack: fight or flight. If we were on the African Savanna, then it would be appropriate. But, given we’re fighting with colleagues, bosses, spouses, or our kids, we have to control that fight or flight reaction and find something more helpful…what I call the opportunities in between fight and flight.
Here are some suggestions for slowing down and argument:

  1. Breathe and notice if your reptilian mind is taking control.
  2. Count to Ten so you can transcend your reptilian mind and think for yourself.
  3. Remember that fear drives the conflict.  What are you afraid of?
  4. Listen to what is being said, even if it’s exaggerated.  There is something that needs to happen. Find out what the other person wants.
  5. Imagine you don’t have to defend yourself, or run away, or attack.
  6. Tolerate your anxiety and need to respond in the moment, and stay quiet.
  7. Wait to have a conversation about the problem later on, when the reptilian brain has receded.

Fight or flight reactions are NOT inevitable.  Each of these tools helps you to “expand the distance between stimulus and response”. Maybe Steven Covey coined that exact phrase, but the advice to take a “time out” is universal.  If you need further support, contact me, Kathleen Bartle.  I’m an Executive Conflict Consultant and I can help you with strategies to deal with workplace conflict.