How to Stay Cool When Things Heat UP!

When things heat up, we can blame the heat—and our reaction—on a little critter.  Our lizard brain!  Otherwise known as the amygdala, it holds emotional memory—fear, anger—and ‘helps’ us react without thinking.  Seth Godin calls it our ‘lizard brain’ and says, “Your lizard brain is here to stay.  Your job is to figure out how to quiet it and ignore it.”
Ask yourself, "What's my Intent?"
Before you lose it, stop and ask yourself, “What’s my Intent?”  It’s our purpose—what we want to have happen.  When things heat up, we lose sight of our intent. If we're going to stay cool, we must constantly ask ourselves, "What's my intent—what do I want to have happen here?" Because it's very easy to get pulled away from our intent.
Another factor in communication is the Content— what we end up talking about. This is when things really start to heat up—the argument starts, we get defensive, or do something to save face, or try to ‘win.’  Check out the book Crucial Conversations which explores common deviations from our intent.  Fall into any of these traps and we’re no longer focused on our intent!
The way we look and sound have impact!
The way we look and sound in a situation—and the way the other person looks and sounds—can have a lot to do with things heating up.  We call this the Process—how we’re communicating. We can look at it from both 'sides' when things heat up.  The way we look and the way we sound can escalate a situation. And for many of us, this is what our lizard brain is reacting to when we lose it. We react to the other person's facial expressions and body language or tone of voice. 
If you're a frowning thinker like me, people may react to you because they think you're mad.  When we're faced with a sarcastic tone and eye rolling many of us have really lost it! IF our communication is incongruent—if the way we look, the way we sound and the words we choose do not agree—people will depend on other than our words for the meaning.  
Employ the three factors in active listening
When things heat up our lizard brain takes over!  One way to quiet it is to practice active listening skills.  As Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” There are three factors to active listening: Clarifying involves asking open-ended questions—who, when, where, what, how—to gain a better understanding of the other person’s position and move them toward a solution.  Be careful with “why” questions—they can be perceived as accusatory, putting the other person on the defensive!!
Pacing is something we do naturally with people we’re comfortable with.  When we’re not, we rear back and do the opposite of what they’re doing.  When pacing, we subtly mirror the communication style of the other person—their posture, facial expressions, gestures and the pace, volume and energy of their voice. Be sure you don’t ape or mimic them or get angry if they are!
The third factor in active listening is Backtracking.  It’s similar to paraphrasing only you concentrate on using some of their actual words.  These are called essence words—when you use their essence words, they feel heard.  If you’re faced with one word answers—single out.  You do this by repeating a word they use and following it with an open-ended question. Exercise verbal aikido to keep your cool
Aikido is a form of martial arts focused on protecting both the attacker and the defender—using the force of the attacker to defeat them. To perhaps oversimplify: if they’re pushing, pull; if they’re pulling, push. Push back and you’re creating conflict!
The first technique of verbal aikido is Selective Agreement—look for something you can agree with in what the person is saying.  Too often we’re looking for how we can correct them or disagree with them.  Your fall back phrase?  “You may be right, and…”
The best way to respond to sarcasm is to use Limited Response. Respond only to the words or subject of the remark not the emotion or tone behind it.  Say the words in your head without the tone and respond to them.  That way you don’t get hooked!  Practice these techniques and you’ll be better able to coexist with life’s difficult people—stay COOL when things heat UP!