These ideas do not apply to abusive interactions. I’m talking about conversations in which conflict happens. I am also tailoring this to online interaction, although I think most of the ideas should hold as well in 3D. I’m sure these won’t work for everyone. They are merely ideas from what works for me!
1. Slow things way down. In synchronous online conversation, such as IM, try waiting five minutes before answering each emotionally charged line. If you are physically shaking, you have probably not waited long enough. In asynchronous conversation, such as e-mail, try waiting an hour after reading it. The first thing you want to say is probably the wrong thing to say. In 3D conversation, try taking three deep breaths. Slow yourself down. Let the other person know that you’re doing this.
2. When online, maintain a simultaneous conversation about something else, with someone else, separately from the emotionally charged conversation. Talk with a friend. Go and put some energy into that conversation whenever you’re feeling especially shaky.
3. Apologize when and only when you have determined you did wrong and you know what you are apologizing for. Do not reflexively apologize or apologize when you don’t think you did wrong. Remember that an apology is little good unless followed up by action. If you don’t understand exactly what it is you did wrong, you will not be able to appropriately modify your behavior.
4. Cut the sarcasm or snark. In conflict this can only be snide and unhelpful. Prefer earnesty.
5. Remember that nobody is perfect. Imperfection includes making mistakes and not properly fixing them. It goes beyond mistakes into pettiness, rudeness, and cruelty. Don’t buy into the common progressive narrative that acceptable imperfections consist only of making mistakes and then apologizing, perfectly, for them, usually while under pressure and in an emotionally charged situation. People do bad and wrong things, that sometimes aren’t ever resolved, and they can still be good people. Everyone has plenty of marks on their slate; do not be especially worried about a new one. Keep a sense of perspective. This conversation and this conflict will be over eventually.
6. Do not write off the other party in the conflict. They probably see something in their relationship with you that they are willing to work for. You probably do too. Conflict is a natural part of a relationship between imperfect people. It is very likely that you will both get through this with respect for each other intact, if perhaps a little scuffed.
7. Eat something, either during the conversation or after you’ve calmed down. It may help you relax. It may provide a needed distraction. It may just be a pleasurable act to enjoy while you’re otherwise not enjoying yourself.
What works for you?