Who are you listening to?

You may have heard that it’s always the second person who determines if an argument will occur or not. All of us have moments when we are not at our best. Moments when we say or do things we likely would not do or say if we were more in control of our emotions.

Unfortunately, those closest to us are usually the first to know when we are in such states. Once the first person acts inappropriately the second person has to choose if he or she will react or respond. There is a big difference between the two.

Reacting typically involves little or no thought. By definition is it instantaneous and automatic. Reactions are often followed by an escalation of the situation usually leading to an unpleasant outcome. “Oops, I shouldn’t have done or said that” often follows reactions.

Responses, on the other hand, are typically reasoned and thought-out. Reactions come from our emotional brain, responses from our thinking brain. There may be some among us who are always in total control of their emotions, but I promise I’m not one of them and forgive me for saying this, but I doubt you are either. I know I do life far better when I respond to situations rather than react.

That’s why it is so important, when dealing with a friend, co-worker, or loved one that we avoid reacting to unpleasant outbreaks. I’ve written before about the power of grabbing your thumb in such instances and thinking your way to your best response. In fact, it’s a chapter in my upcoming book PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Home. Send me an e-mail to ron@ProductiveOutcomes.com, and I’ll gladly send you that chapter.

This week I want to bring your attention to another technique I recently learned that could help you keep calm in the midst of an emotional storm, and to do your part to bring it to a rapid, and productive conclusion. When you find yourself getting upset, and you fear you are about to go off on someone, I challenge you to be especially aware of your self-talk.

All of us talk to ourselves regularly throughout the day. That is normal and nothing to be concerned about. If you often find yourself answering “huh?” to yourself, you might want to consider getting some help.

But, seriously we all have to contend with thoughts in our mind that sometimes work for us, and sometimes, not-so-much.  The new technique I learned is to talk to yourself in the second or third person. Rather than using the “I” pronoun in your self-talk consider using “you” as in “you really should just keep your cool and calmly walk away.” Current research is showing that this practice serves to cause you to return to your thinking brain, from which you are more likely to make a wise decision.

While I need to look into this more, I believe the principle is that speaking to yourself as if it were someone else speaking is likely to help keep you on your best behavior. It is similar to the recommendation I often give that sensitive conversations should be held in public places such as a popular restaurant. That location will cause you to keep your voices down and to avoid blowing up at each other for fear of what others might think.

Again, I believe if we hear the second person voice we will respond as if someone else is listening in to the conversation. Wow, isn’t that a scary thought!

Talking to your self in the third person might be even more powerful. In my case it would sound like “Ron, do you really want to blow up over this?” or “Ron, what would your best self do in this particular situation?”

I am not saying this is a fool-proof way to keep peace in your relationships or to avoid all negative interactions. I hope you agree, however, that it certainly could not hurt, and that it might prove quite helpful. Please don’t expect to form the habit of speaking to yourself in the second or third person instantaneously or without effort and forethought. You will need to be intentional about it and consistent for it to become a natural part of who you are.

I challenge you to do a Google search such as “speak to self in the 2nd person.” There you will find an abundance of posts such as “Talking to yourself in the third person can help you control your emotions” or “Gain a psychological edge by talking about yourself in the third person.”

Of course, relationships work best when parties speak with each other in addition to speaking to themselves. But controlled conversations, especially in the face of charged emotions could prove to be beneficial for the overall health of the relationship.