Communication: What people do differently when they assert themselves quietly

Emotions rise, voices become loud – and words are spoken that we later regret. Can’t this be avoided somehow? Some people seem to be able to do it without suffering any disadvantages. You can read what they have in common here.

There is nothing wrong with arguing and dealing with conflict. In a way, arguing is even healthy – both for the relationship between two people and for the individuals themselves. For example, in an argument we can learn to show emotions and get feedback on them. We experience the effect it can have on others when we get loud, angry, defend ourselves or attack. And we can experience forgiving, making up, finding compromises and being accepted and loved even though we are uncomfortable.

However, one danger of arguing is that it can destroy something. Intense emotions can interfere with our ability to consider the consequences of our actions and words. They can put us in a frenzy where we want to hurt, hit and hit. This sometimes causes wounds that do not heal quickly. And often it doesn’t even resolve the underlying conflict.

Psychotherapist Sean Grover writes in an article for “Psychology Today” that compassion, as a fundamental element of a bond between us and another person, enables conflicts that do not cause lasting destruction – and the result of which, in most cases, is that our interests are taken into account .

The therapist cites the following behaviors in arguments in his text as examples of compassion-based pattern reactions in arguments.

Habits of people who never become abusive

Stay honest and honest

In arguments, many people feel the impulse to act as cool and calm as possible – understandable, as this leaves them with less room for attack. According to Sean Grover, however, the opposite strategy is often more constructive, effective and de-escalating: to say and show honesty when we are angry, disappointed, hurt or irritated. In this way, on the one hand, we avoid our emotions from building up inside us, growing and draining us of the energy we use to cover them up. On the other hand, this is the only way our counterpart has the chance to react to our real feelings – and, at best, to respond to them.

To listen carefully

When we argue, we tend to just look for weaknesses in what the other person is saying to fire our ammunition at. According to the therapist, an argument characterized by compassion is characterized by the fact that we listen and try to understand what our counterpart says and means. Being angry and upset does not have to stop us from asking questions of understanding and thinking about what a person is trying to tell us. This is the only way we can understand their perspective and understand what the problem is from their point of view. And this is the only way our counterpart will feel respected instead of attacked – and will hit back less violently. Listening attentively often has the positive side effect that the argument slows down and we get a chance to calm down.

Practice patience

If listening attentively isn’t enough to give us time to breathe, Sean Grover says it’s a good idea to specifically slow ourselves down and, if necessary, remove ourselves from the situation for a moment. Sometimes this can be particularly irritating to the other person. But the more emotional we are, the harder it will be for us to remain respectful and empathetic. If in doubt, we can tell the other person that we need a little distance rather than explode.

Take responsibility for your own feelings

When we feel hurt or angry, it is often not the fault of the person whose behavior may have triggered our feelings. Our experiences, assessments, habits and patterns of thinking, expectations and demands usually play a role. We are at least partly responsible for what we feel. According to the therapist, recognizing and understanding this is essential for an argument in which we can do justice to our counterpart – and vice versa. But once we have understood this, instead of an accusation like “You could have told me that you were meeting up,” we will automatically choose a statement that allows the other person to understand us: “I am hurt because I felt excluded when you didn’t tell me that you were meeting up. I am afraid of being excluded and forgotten because that is how I have experienced it in the past.” Most people are more likely to take such a statement into account in their future behavior than a pure accusation.

First the positive

How realistic it really is in an argument and to what extent it fits together with honesty and candor is questionable, but according to Sean Grover, part of a compassionate argument is that we preface criticism or accusations with a positive, confirming statement. As an example, the therapist gives something like: “I really enjoy going out to dinner with you, but it spoils my mood if I have to wait half an hour for you.” If we succeed in doing this – despite our bad mood – the other person will immediately feel less like our opponent and will be more interested in finding a solution and accommodating us because the confirmation acts like an incentive for them.


As with most portrayals of supposedly optimal forms of communication à la “I-messages” and “never below the belt”, it seems downright utopian that anyone can always remain compassionate, respectful, composed and honest – especially in an argument. It is apparently part of being human that we sometimes lose our temper and do and say things that we later regret. However, we can at least educate ourselves to some extent and adopt behavioral patterns that we think are beneficial and healthy for us – and bring us closer to the person we want to be. If we resolve to react to specific situations in a certain way, we can succeed, and the more often we succeed and have succeeded, the easier it becomes over time. That does not mean that we always manage it or that we have to manage it. But if we really want to argue more compassionately and successfully, it probably doesn’t do any harm to orient ourselves towards ideal forms like those presented here.


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