When you're having an emotional argument, you really have two problems. The emotions and the actual issue. Solve the first one by focusing on what are known as "hooks" and "hot buttons." Photo by Donnie Ray Jones.
As tips blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree explains, professional NYPD hostage negotiators use this tactic to deal with tense, emotional situations on a regular basis. Simply put, "hooks" are anything that the subject latches on to positively, while "hot buttons" are anything that cause a negative reaction. Hot buttons are probably easier to recognise (many people have a pretty high awareness for when something you say will piss someone else off), but hooks can be a powerful way to steer a conversation back towards a positive direction:
Hooks and hot buttons can help build rapport quickly because rather than turning the conversation into a squabble over demands, they deal with the emotions of the other side in order to create a more positive mood. "Hooks" are the things that someone enjoys or likes talking about. "Hot buttons" are things that make them angry, upset or depressed.
By steering the discussion toward hooks and away from hot buttons you can make sure you're not unnecessarily antagonizing the other side and, instead, are soothing them. What's the best way to find out someone's hooks and hot buttons? By listening. The motto of the HNT is "Talk To Me." NYPD negotiators are taught to spend 80% of their time listening and only 20% talking.
If you're dealing with someone that you know personally, keep a mental list of things that they respond positively to. For example, if they're struggling with a bout of low self-esteem, you might remind them of something they have done that they were proud of. While you can't control the emotions of others, you may be able to manage the situation a little better.
NYPD Hostage Negotiators On How To Persuade People: 4 New Secrets [Barking Up the Wrong Tree]