Ever notice how sometimes people say really unhelpful things with supposedly pleasant intentions? One of my favorite of these is “calm down” when someone is upset. We almost all say it or at least have in the past.

And while we may be trying to help, I wonder if we are really all that concerned about the other person. I’ve tuned my ear toward this phrase and I don’t often hear it said with compassion or understanding. Usually it is a demand and one given with razor edge.

The emotion being expressed can be anger or sadness or excitement or pretty much anything and the demand comes out the same – judgment that there is something wrong or inconvenient with the emotion or its expression.

I know when I tell someone to calm down it is more about me than them. When I look inward about how I am operating in the moment I find is my discomfort with the display of emotion, expectation of a different response from the person (essentially a dismissal of their experience and invalidation of it), my impatience, or defensiveness based on taking the information they’re sending in a personal way.

“Calm down” and similar demanding ilk like “come here” “what’s wrong with you” [check out Verbal Judo for more about 7 things never to say] are phrases that don’t improve interactions or understanding. They lead to conflict and not resolution or better relationships. They escalate situations…the opposite of what we want when we let them fly.

Spending a great deal of time trying to become a better parent and working with other parents with similar goals, I’ve noticed we are pretty demanding of children. And why wouldn’t we be? People demand us to control our children, especially in public. We’re talking about serious social pressure.

Maybe attempts to control are part of the problem though. A major complaint from parents and the general public is that children are demanding and act like they are entitled. And the proffer…demand your children obey and act like you as a parent are entitled to have well behaved children. So I guess that falls into the category of “do as I say not as I do” (which always turns out well).

So instead of control how about we try compassion with children, co-workers, everyone we interact with. Validate the expression of their emotion. Listen deeper to what is happening in their reality rather than demanding they conform to yours. Try to recognize their need in that moment rather than expect them to fulfill yours.

It’s not easy…because often we are experiencing some level of heightened emotion as well in these circumstances (or we wouldn’t be demanding we be accepting and negotiating). But the more we can do it, establish a personal habit of compassion, the better our relationships with others will be.

Thanks as always.

With civility ~ Brian

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