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· OK, OK, just calm down.
· Jeeessss...would you calm down...I didn’t mean to insult you.
This is one of the Imperfect Phrases in this book that has a place in constructive discussions, but it’s also used in ways that deny the upset person’s right to be upset, agitated, frustrated or frightened, so it deserves some extra attention here.
“Calm down” can be used to help someone, OR to send the message that the person “shouldn’t feel” upset. The latter denies the validity of their feelings and is often used when someone is uncomfortable with strong emotions expressed.
The constructive version: If you combine the phrase, calm down, with offers of help, you can turn it into something exceedingly useful. For example, with a frightened person:
· I know you are upset, so let me help you calm down. Look at me, and squeeze really hard on my hand...and just take a few deep breaths with me...ok...you’re calming down now...take another breath.
This is a strong attempt to help the person, and not for selfish motives. It’s just plain helpful, even if it doesn’t result in the person calming down.
The bad version: “Calm down”, as a standalone phrase. tends to cause mistrust about your motives. The other person will question whether you are being selfish and trying to get him or her to calm down because of your own discomfort.
In most situations, a person told to calm down, will fight back by resisting or denying.
A common response is: “I AM calm, you bozo.” which then starts an argument. Why? Because there is a presupposition that the person IS angry, out of control, overly emotional, and that’s something people will fight against.
You might mean well by telling someone to calm down, but as we said in the principles section, it’s not what you INTEND that matters, but how your BEHAVIORS AND WORDS are perceived by the other person.
Make It Better:
· Avoid the command structure. The less it sounds like an order, and the more it sounds like you want to help, the more constructive it will be.
· Couple the phrase or an equivalent with help.
· Evaluate your own motives. Is your goal to help, or is your goal to stop feeling uncomfortable because it’s YOU that doesn’t like the emotions of the other person.
Here are some options:
· Maybe we both need to step back and calm down a bit, OK?
· I know you’re upset, so if there’s anything I can do to help, I’d really like to…