7 tips for learning to respond

3514214847_26589b6365_zIt’s so easy to react. Someone says something that riles you up, you get defensive, and say something in anger. Or you remain silent but quietly fume for the remainder of the day. While I rarely say anything I regret, I often regret saying nothing at all.

This last few months, I’ve really been trying to gain better control over my emotions. Learning how to respond to a situation, rather than react, has been a work in progress. I don’t yet have the ability to respond immediately to a negative situation, but I’ve been working on becoming more assertive. Here are a few things that have helped me.

1. Stop and breathe.
I rarely get angry. But frustration and overwhelm are common feelings. When I start feeling this way, I immediately stop what I’m doing. I take a few deep breaths, pushing out my diaphragm as I inhale, then slowly exhaling. I focus on something pleasant: a memory of sitting by the ocean, listening to the waves crash against the shore, or a recent family vacation.

2. Relax.
When I react, my body’s initial response is to tense up. To get rid of this tension, I’ll intentionally tense up my neck for a few seconds, then release and let the tightness fall away. I’ll do the same with my shoulders, arms, all the way down to my feet. I may also do a few stretches (quietly in the bathroom) if needed.

3. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
I always try to approach a situation with the assumption that any offense was completely unintentional. A lot of people lack tact or proper social skills, which often leads to misunderstandings. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re deliberately trying to cause problems. Now there will be times when you know someone is trying to get under your skin. In that case, it’s best not to give them the satisfaction of reacting (though that is easier said than done).

4. Think about it.
One great introvert tool is the power of analysis. I’ll ask myself, why did that question/comment/action bother me so much? Am I being unreasonable for feeling this way or did they cross the line? Did they touch on one of my many insecurities? Were they trying to be helpful but just didn’t use tact? Even though it was a negative situation, is there some lesson I can take away from this? As I’m prone to overthinking, I usually give myself a time limit to muse on the situation, then revisit these thoughts later in the day.

5. Let it go.

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I try to let any feelings of resentment or frustration slip away. Firstly, holding onto resentment destroys your own happiness, makes you miserable, and weighs you down. Secondly, if you’re harbouring anger towards someone, it can lead to harsh words and further offense if/when you do speak with them. Yes, they said something that upset you. But when you forgive others it takes away any power they have over you.

6. Create a game plan.
Not every situation needs to lead to a discussion. I’ll ask myself, will this continue to happen if I don’t say something? If the answer is yes, then I may need to have an uncomfortable conversation. Telling others that their actions make you feel upset is also a great way to enforce your boundaries. I usually run through exactly what I want to say, choosing my words carefully to avoid offense. I keep it simple because I know I’ll trip over my words if I try to be too verbose. Plan for a best case scenario but be mentally prepared if things go the other way.

7. Initiate a calm discussion.
Obviously, in order to have a calm discussion, I need to be calm myself. Try to choose an opportunity for a one-on-one conversation (as long as you feel safe) when they appear relaxed or calm. If they’re agitated for any reason, they likely won’t be responsive to even the kindest criticism. I try to say something along these lines:

“I noticed that you seem very blunt with your comments towards me. I’m wondering if I’ve done something to upset you.”

There will always be those who get defensive regardless of how you approach them. Just remember, that is their problem, not yours. Ideally, the situation can be easily resolved, but even if it isn’t, you’ve stood up for yourself and that’s a wonderful thing!

Do you have any additional insight?

Image credit: “Calm” by Kimberley Hill is licensed under CC by 2.0


6 thoughts on “7 tips for learning to respond

  1. Bart Leahy says:

    I don’t always handle stressful conversations well, either. One thing I’m teaching myself to do is being aware of when I’m getting spun up. Just that awareness helps me to pause and, as you said, take a deep breath. It’s easier to remain calm if I’m not the one starting from a place of anger. If I am, I need to slow down and try to understand why I’m angry. If it’s not really about their actions but my own mental state, I have to imagine a sword hot from the blacksmith being plunged into a bucket of water. That might not calm my anger, but it will stop me from continuing to rage at the person in front of me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ally says:

      I agree, its amazing how self-awareness can really help alter our perspective. I love the mental image of plunging a hot piece of metal into a water bath. You can just imagine the steam rising up 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Warrior Freya says:

    “Let it go” is one I’m working on myself. I let things eat away at me sometimes. A situation will play in my mind like a broken record or a looping GIF. If I could just let it go I would be fine but sometimes I can’t seem to get past what’s bothering me. Your quote is one I refer back to often. Who am I really hurting by holding onto this “thing”, this anger? Honestly, myself. I’m missing out on everything I could be enjoying right now by being stuck in the past over something I can’t go back and change.

    A piece of advice I was given some time ago is, “Never take anything personally, even if it’s personal.”

    When you detach yourself from something it ceases to have power over you. Someone else’s actions are a reflection of them, not of me. My actions, my choices and words, reflect me. I want to make sure it’s a good reflection. Holding onto things and being petty isn’t the reflection I want to be known for.

    “Benefit of the doubt” is another good one. Very rarely are people intentionally hurtful. I find open communication helps with this. “Hey, I know you meant well by what you said / did, but… this is how it actually made me feel.”

    It can be a hard, tense, or awkward conversation. The other person can get defensive because you’re pointing out something “negative” and no one likes to be in the position of feeling like they’re wrong. There’s also the “victim” mentality that can show up where they feel bad for making you feel bad, so they’re going to make you feel bad for making them feel bad about making you feel bad… yay human interaction and all its complicated-ness.

    Sometimes it makes me feel like this…


    For the most part, it is worth it, though, and the better I become at understanding myself the better I find I am able to handle social situations, especially the ones that are trying and require more patience and understanding than normal.

    Got to admit it, though… It would be pretty cool to be a dragon. : 3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ally says:

      That’s so very true. We’re only harming ourselves by holding onto negative experiences and thoughts. I love that advice about not taking anything personally. When I took my graphic design course, part of it included presenting your work to the class and having it torn apart by our instructors. That quickly taught us to separate ourselves from our work.

      I also want my actions to reflect the kind of person I’m trying to become: kind, considerate and patient, while still maintaining boundaries and standing up for myself. I’m also finding that the more I understand how I function, the better I’m able to leave my own issues out of my interactions with others.

      And yes, being a dragon would be pretty awesome 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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