The Power of ‘Time Out’ in Tough Conversations

In each of my student presentations, I always ask the question ‘Who prefers alone time when they are experiencing tough emotions?’ The majority of hands in the room shoot up.

I then ask if anyone has ever had someone they care about say, ‘I don’t want to talk right now, I want to be alone” and who took it personally and felt upset, angry or confused?’ Most raise their hand again.

I also ask, ‘Who has tried to have a reasonable and respectful conversation with someone while you were feeling angry and later realized it didn’t go well and you wished you had calmed down before having the conversation?’ Once again the hands go up.

Emotions Can Make Us Want To Rush Conversations

When someone says, ‘I don’t want to talk about it right now’ or ‘I want to be alone’, we have a tendency to take those words personally. But what if they are really saying ‘I can’t have this conversation right now. I have too many emotions and can’t think clearly.’

Most of us have said or been in a situation where a friend, partner, family member have said, ‘We are having this conversation now!’

Sometimes a conversation is being forced because there is a belief that making the conversation happen now will help relieve the uncomfortable emotion that is being felt. Maybe it’s curiosity to know WHY something happened or maybe it’s impatience or maybe it’s timing – the conversation needs to happen now because one of you is going away or is off to work.

However, trying to have a conversation that is flooded with emotions, makes it difficult to stay in control of the quality and direction of the communication. Instead, misunderstandings happen, hurtful words are said, and situations escalate unnecessarily – later causing guilt and regret.

Taking Time Out

By giving ourselves and others time to calm down, reflect, and then re-engage once all parties are ready helps to strengthen relationships and improve communication.

After all, it’s normal for relationships to have ups and downs. What’s important is how we choose to deal with them.

Use these seven steps to respectfully take ‘time out’ in conversations:

1. Notice when you or the other person is feeling overwhelmed

Bringing awareness and being conscious of your emotions and the emotions of the other person is essential to help move the interaction to a more positive place.

2. Name the emotion

‘I’m feeling stressed.’

‘I’m feeling overwhelmed.’

‘I’m feeling angry.’

If you or the other person aren’t sure what emotion is being felt, try using the Elephant in the Room poster.

3. State why you are calling a ‘time out’

‘I need time to calm down.’

‘I need to think about what I want to say.’

‘I need to process what just happened.’

‘I need time alone to reflect.’

4. Communicate that you will revisit the conversation when you are feeling calmer

This helps to assure the person that you aren’t just walking away and ignoring them. With children, reaffirm that you love them and everything is ok, you just need some time.

5. Find healthy ways to release your emotions

When tension is high, it can be hard to see a way out. Create a list in advance of what works to calm you down and positively release your emotions. Have your children do the same.

Personally, baking is my go-to for releasing emotions. It’s something that I enjoy and it soothes me. Plus, I get the pleasure of sharing it when I’m done with my husband and son Kai.

For ideas, check out Healthy Ways To Release Emotions.

6. Look for the positives

While you are taking the ‘time out’ to release your emotions, it’s important to watch your thoughts. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about how you could have argued your point better, or replay the conversation, or criticize the person in your mind which will keep you worked up and will only escalate your emotional state

If you have trouble letting go, think about what you are grateful for or value about the other person so you can focus on that rather than the circumstance. Remembering the good can help you feel calmer and stop you from going over and over the circumstance whether in your head or out loud.

7. Once you are calm, revisit the conversation

Once the emotions have died down, you’ll be able to have a more productive conversation and are more likely to resolve the situation.

Try these steps to help keep communications calm and positive:

  • Talk about what you want the end result to be.
  • Communicate empathy and understanding for the other person’s point of view.
  • Affirm what you value about the other person.
  • Discuss what you could have done differently.

The Next Time Things Get Heated

Disagreements are inevitable and sometimes issues don’t get resolved immediately. By actively taking ‘time out’ you’ll be able to reduce the chances of situations getting out of control, becoming nasty, and creating guilt and regret later.

Until next time,



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