are those people who put a damper on everything. No matter how positive
a situation, no matter how many innovative solutions, some people seem
to spread negativism like the foam from a fire extinguisher. Often the
individuals are well meaning so it is their behavior that is at issue,
not the people themselves. You can accept people and not their opinions
You may live or
work with these folks on a regular basis or you may simply meet them
at the grocery, a ball game, school or any number of other places. They
may be your customer, client, guest or clerk. If you are familiar with
the communication styles and you have time to determine theirs, you
may be able to manage their negative behaviors using those techniques.
Often, however, the encounter is sudden and there is no time to determine
the best strategy to use. To fire up your relationships in negative
situations, try these tactics.
those words from your mother about crossing the street, a potentially
dangerous situation? The same goes with negative behavior.
- Stop. Control
your own reactions first. Don't over-react, become defensive, blame
or allow them to blame you. You'll have time to respond later. If
the mouth is defending, the ear is not hearing. And if you are too
busy defending your ideas, you may destroy your relationships in
- Look. Look
at the individual. Maintain appropriate eye contact. Keep your chin
level. Tilting it up will make you appear to be superior. Tilting
it down will make you seem uncertain, unconfident.
- Listen. Learn
what their issues, concerns, problems are. Often people just need
to vent and don't expect you to do anything about their problem.
By listening instead of talking you also gain time to assess.
the stop, look and listen phase you can maintain your calm using these
Using these strategies
in the initial phase of dealing with fire extinguishing behaviors allows
you to get in control. The person who talks the least is in control,
not the one who is putting a damper on things. Taking charge of your
reactions first not only diffuses the situation but allows you time
to begin focusing on them. It will be much easier to fire up the communication
or relationship if you can focus on them. Find what you have in common,
what you do agree on. Attend to that and to the other person.
- Breathe. During
times of confrontation or intense stress we often hold our breath
or breathe very shallowly. This decreases the amount of oxygen to
vital organs including the brain. Our thinking, processing and decision-making
capacities are compromised. Breathe deeply, slowly from the abdomen.
Inhale through the nose allowing the abdomen to distend. This permits
the diaphragm to expand to its fullest, creating maximum aeration
of the lungs. The more oxygen into the lungs, the more into the
brain and the better your chances are for responding appropriately.
Exhale through the lips.
Since we are taught to hold in our abdomens for appearance sake,
you may need to practice. Lie on the floor or bed on your back.
Place a book on your abdomen. Practice deep breathing until you
can push the book upward on inhalation. Blowing up balloons, playing
wind instrument and singing also help you develop diaphragmatic
breathing. At every stoplight, use these breathing techniques. They
will become second nature and be much easier to call upon when fire-extinguishing
- Relax. Relaxing
isn't an easy task when you're in a sudden confrontation with negative
behavior. Like abdominal breathing, it needs to be practiced. You
must know what tension and relaxation feel like in order to get
relaxed. This requires practice prior to the negative incident to
make it really work and to make it a habit. Initially, it may take
you ten minutes to learn.
Starting at either your head or toes, alternately contract and relax
all major muscle groups. Scrunch up your face, frown, tense your
neck muscles. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Feel the difference
between tight and loose. Now raise your right arm in the air. Make
a fist. Hold it tight. Stiffen up your forearm and upper arm muscles
all the way into the shoulder. Hold and note how uncomfortable the
tension is. Open your fist. Uncurl, then wiggle the fingers. Now
wiggle and relax the wrist, the forearm and lastly the upper arm
and shoulder. Notice the difference between tense and relaxed. Continue
with the left hand and arm, then chest, abdomen, buttocks, each
leg and foot.
Once you are clear on the differences in tension and relaxation,
you will be able to mentally tell yourself to relax during negative
crises or any other time you feel anxious. In this more relaxed
state, you will appear both more confident and more open to the
As Geraldine, a Flip Wilson character, used to say, "What you see
is what you get!" This is true in life just as it is true in dealing
with difficult behaviors. Visualize the outcome you want from the
situation. See yourself in control, calm, cool, collected. Picture
the resolution you want. Whatever you think is most likely to happen
IS most likely to happen. Make it positive and make it what you
Sometimes it is helpful to take a mini-mental vacation. Often negative
situations occur when we are on the phone. It can be helpful to
take yourself to a place in your mind, a memory of a relaxing spot.
You may visualize yourself by a waterfall, walking in the rain or
snow. Perhaps you are lying on the beach, feeling the sun's warming
rays and hearing the surf while feeling sand between your toes.
Perhaps you're experiencing rain on a tin roof or a mountain meadow
full of wild flowers and a babbling brook. Create relaxing scenarios
that you can call upon in times of stress.
If these two methods fail, you can always visualize the other person
in a compromising situation-a G-string bathing suit, for example!
This will help you disarm them in your mind!
the Golden Rule. Be as understanding of them as you would want for yourself.
This will help you save face for everyone and provide workable solutions.
Take a risk: Hold your hand out first.
Stephen Covey would tell us, "First things first." To manage fire-extinguishing
behaviors, we must first take charge of our own emotions. If you stop,
look, listen, breathe, relax and visualize you will take control of
the situation, diffuse negative behavior and be on your way to firing
up your relationships.
This material is copyrighted. Reproduction or transmittal in any form
without the written permission of the author, Sandra Jones Campbell,
Ph.D., is prohibited.