Mind & Body

No-Fight Club

Diffuse a tense situation quickly with empathy and compassion.

No-Fight Club
Pin it Joseph de leo

You've been wandering through a store for 20 minutes and still can't find what you're looking for. When you finally run into a clerk, she responds to your request for help by snapping, "I don't know, that's not my department." Angry, you're tempted to snap back--or shoot her a nasty look as you track down her supervisor.

As you storm off, you may notice your jaw is clenched, your shoulders are tense, and your heart is racing. With that kind of reaction, it's no wonder angry conflict raises blood pressure. Several studies confirm that holding on to aggression interferes with your health, including one published in 2002 in the journal Health Psychology that linked long-term hostility with heart disease. The secret, says Ann Marie McKelvey, a psychotherapist and life coach in Santa Fe, N.M., is to respond with compassion. Here, she explains how.

1. STOP AND BREATHE. Notice how your body is responding. A clenched jaw and tense shoulders are signs that anger is taking hold. Take a deep breath and relax.

2. THINK AND FEEL. What are you really feeling and why? McKelvey says that more often than not we feel anger because our needs aren't being met.

3. LISTEN AND CONNECT. Consider the needs of the other person.

4. EMPATHIZE AND SPEAK. Find a way to communicate your needs while acknowledging those of the other person.


In the encounter with the salesperson, you know you need information, but what does she need? "If she's the only clerk, she may feel overwhelmed," says McKelvey. The solution: Express compassion and empathy by saying something like "I know you're really busy, but I'm confused and need to find this product. Could you help me?" By acknowledging the difficulty of her job and asking sincerely for her help, "you've just met her need for empathy, and you come across as someone with a heart," says McKelvey.