On occasion, we all find ourselves knee deep in a heated discussion that seems to be escalating rapidly without any sign of resolution or agreement. As soon as the intensity elevates, agitated personal emotions are bound to influence the direction and tone of the conversation. These emotional influences usually cloud the open-minded exchange of information with a series of scripted, opinionated statements. Once this happens, you can be fairly certain the discussion will result in little practical value.
In a heated argument we are apt to lose sight of the truth.
– Publilius Syrus
Emotional People Think via Known Scripts
When people become inundated with a rush of emotion, they tend to fall back on predetermined personal beliefs as a foundation for their reasoning. Some physiologists and cognition experts refer to these predetermined personal beliefs as “scripts”. Someone consumed in an emotional state will think and communicate in a scripted fashion based entirely on what they presently believe to be true, instead of keeping their mind open to new information.
Break the Script to Ease Emotions
How do you ease emotions and restore order in a heated discussion so that the focus of communication realigns with the original intended purpose? The key is to ask a specific question that forces the emotional communicators to break out of their emotionally scripted thought process. I call this “The Break Script Technique”. If you can break their script, they will typically become cognizant of the current communication problem.
Questions with Known Answers Work Best
To successfully implement “The Break Script Technique”, you have to ask a simple, familiar, off-topic question. Your question should be so common that most people, including the emotional communicators, have a reflexive, scripted way of answering it. You are essentially breaking them out of one script by substituting it for another script they are familiar and comfortable with.
Here are a few example questions that can assist in breaking the emotional script:
- “Sorry to interrupt, but do you know the time?”
- “How are you doing?” (or some variation… may be a bit odd in the middle of a conversation.)
- “What time do you usually break for lunch?”
Although off-topic, these questions will not seem unreasonable or inconvenient to the emotional communicators because they already know the answers to each. The goal is to interrupt their train of thought just long enough to make them aware of their emotional state.
“The Break Script Technique” is not applicable in all situations, especially when untamed emotions have turned a civil discussion into a full-fledged argument. However, if used correctly in the context of a fairly civil discussion, I have found this simple technique to be extremely effective.