Stop Incriminating Yourself

Many comments and queries are tailor-made to inspire conflict. Uncle Billy goads you into a political argument that culminates with joint yelling. Your coworker shares a juicy piece of gossip about the boss and you reflexively respond with your two cents on the matter. Your cousin encourages you to opine on his latest—and his most outlandish—conspiracy theory and you can’t stop yourself from telling him how ridiculous it sounds. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to respond in any of these cases.

Three ideas will help you hold your tongue more often and prevent unnecessary conflict:

Relieve yourself of the obligation to reply when you really don’t want to. If you really don’t want to go around and around with Uncle Billy again about politics, don’t. When you don’t want to gossip about the boss, don’t say anything to your probing coworker. And every time Cousin Jimmy starts connecting the IRS to UFOs, just let him talk without making a judgment. When you know it’s not smart to respond, don’t.

Say “um-hmm” and “I see” a lot more often. A few well-placed “um-hmms” or “I sees” can often function as neutralizing and stabilizing responses. It doesn’t matter if Uncle Billy or your coworker does all the talking as long as the conversation isn’t relationally damaging. It takes two to tangle, but only one person to stop a conversation from escalating. Neutralizing statements like “um-hmm” and “I see” can keep otherwise contentious conversations safe and serene.

Head for the exit. When silence and “um-hmms” aren’t doing the trick, don’t hesitate to extract yourself from the conversation. The smoothest exits usually involve an external excuse: “Excuse me a second, I need to have a word with Aunt Sally; I’m going to duck into the restroom for a second; I need to go and check on my son.” Step out of conversations that seem likely to escalate.

Prevent unnecessary conflict by not responding when you know that trouble’s brewing. You aren’t obligated to respond to anything, and especially not to questions or comments that seem almost certain to create pointless arguments.

Question: How do you avoid unnecessary conflict? Please leave a comment below to continue the discussion.

Want to reduce unnecessary conflict all year long? Buy a copy of Stop Talking, Start Communicating and go straight to Chapter 10. Autographed copies are available online at Brace Books.

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