The Harsh Start-Up
Unlike your run-of-the-mill relationship advice, this piece actually has some neuro-science behind it. Whenever you begin a conversation harshly, you initiate a cortisol (stress hormone-look it up here) level spike in your victim's brain. The amount that it increases depends on a variety of factors including their own trauma history, how "harsh" you're being, your perceived status, etc. Want to know strategies to begin more softly? Skip below to "keys to a soft start-up."
Gottman is the man; that's all you need to know. He's a hero in the counseling world and relationship guru. Although he's made the biggest breakthroughs in relationship science of any psychologist I know, he's actually more of a statistics nerd. Don't believe me? Try wading through his book The Science of Trust and tell me what you think. You won't be able to because your brain will have exploded.
Seriously, though, Gottman and his team were able to tell whether a married couple would divorce within seven years with an 85% accuracy just by listening. When he watched a video of them and took their vitals in his Seattle Love Lab, he increased his accuracy to over 90%!
- Breathe Deeply - Yes the clouds are supposed to help! If you are relaxed, the person across from you is 3X more likely to be as well. This is because of mirror neurons and the natural tendency for people around us to behave in ways similar to us at a neuron level even without us doing anything. A whole new perspective on "our thoughts determine our lives" eh?
- Plan Your Words - procrastinators disband! If you and I ever attend the same event, chances are I will be late. I am terrible at planning how long it will take me to get anywhere. However, I have learned through much pain that planning your speech (especially when it's a touchy issues) is worth the trouble.
- Role Play - if people describe you as a jerk and you're reading this, chances are you have had a lot of practice! Instead of planning hate speech, try saying sweet nothings into the rear view mirror on the way to your destination. Add a smile and you won't be able to resist yourself (yes I agree that does sound weird). If you're brave, ask a friend to play the person you need to talk to and give them your best shot.
We've all seen Hollywood movies which sport the "hero" telling everyone "how it is" (code speak for tactless dialogue) and watch as the opposite actor succumbs to their own wilfulness. While it's popular in movies, it rarely works in real life. If you want to give yourself the best chance of success when dealing with others, try the soft start-up!
p.s. for a funny, only slightly inappropriate example of a harsh start-up, click here.