When a conversation starts turning into a full fledged argument, it’s hard to pull it back to calm things down. Over on Harvard Business Review, they suggest pointing out where the conversation is heading to make it easier to pivot into something more useful.
Photo by Firesam!
The idea is that when conversations get aggressive, they start losing a reasonable end point. To recalibrate that talk, it can be useful to point out the pointlessness of where the conversation is going. Harvard Business Review calls this “pointing out the default future”:
Discontinue the conversation and draw attention to where the conversation is taking both of you — the default future of the conversation — the place it will end if it continues on the current path. Sometimes avoiding mutually assured destruction can become a binding motivation. If people have a “why” to take the higher road, they’re often more willing to endure the “how” of getting there. If you can help them see the inevitable negative consequences of continuing the current pattern, they might be willing to subordinate the need to punish or save face in the interest of a higher value. Don’t assess blame, simply point out the obvious. For example, “I don’t like where this is going. I’m guessing you don’t either. We’re headed toward litigation here. Something that will hurt the project, sever relationships, and cost us both a fortune. Can we try a different tack?”
It’s a simple trick that when done well gives both parties time to step back, refocus their argument and try again. Which should hopefully lead to some type of conclusion that benefits everyone.
What to Do If a Conversation Is Turning Loud and Aggressive [Harvard Business Review]