Video Block
Indulge in Learning
Image is not available

Six Easy Steps to Disengaging in Difficult Conversations

foot-steps-twoIt’s rarely easy to walk away from an interaction that is going sideways. Most of us want to get the conversation on the right track and yet we have to swallow our pride, walk away and try again later.

Why Disengage When Fighting Feels so Right:

  • There will be a price to pay for allowing the conversation to escalate. The price might be financial, professional, or personal. Ask yourself how much of a price you want to pay and then allow the conversation to escalate accordingly.
  • You are more likely to get another chance to converse and sort through issues more effectively. When we disengage from a conversation in a reasonable fashion, people usually allow us another opportunity to sort through the situation without making it more difficult for us.
  • You get to maintain your dignity. You don’t have to worry about what others will say about your behaviour or what will emerge on YouTube. In fact, you will be seen as poised, confident and compassionate.
  • Disengaging builds relationships with clear boundaries. People learn what you will and will not tolerate and the grace with which you will respond to what you will not tolerate. Disengaging gives people information about who you are so they can decide how they wish to engage with you.
  • In the long run, disengaging effectively feels way better than any fight. Your system does not have to go through the highs and lows that come with anger, you don’t have to wake up at 3 am to plot your next argument, and you don’t have to take your stress out on those you love.

When to Disengage:

  • You have asked someone to stop a particular behaviour and the behaviour continues.
  • You are triggered and are finding it difficult to self-regulate.
  • The other person continues to ramp up regardless of the listening or assertion skills you are using.
  • You are too hungry, tired or stressed to navigate the conversation. Your brain needs glucose every 2-3 hours in order to allow you to maintain self-control. It gets this glucose from food, so by the time you are hungry your ability to self-regulate will be impaired. Many of us also convince ourselves that we can handle yet another conversation even if we are exhausted or stressed. This suppression of emotion creates over activity in the core of the brain – the limbic areas – resulting in increased anxiety and dropped impulse control.
  • You still have the ability to disengage – before you are yelling, blaming, being sarcastic, etc.

Six Easy Steps to Disengaging:

  1. Take responsibility for what is not going well for you in the conversation. Own it and don’t blame the other person. “I am finding it difficult to track our conversation because…”
  2. Name what the problem is for you. “we continue to speak over one another.”
  3. Commit to resolving the problem. “I want to sort through this issue with you in the best way possible.”
  4. Set up another time to continue. “Let’s try again tomorrow at 3 pm (pick any timeframe that allows you some cool down time). I will call you/see you then.”
  5. Thank the person for allowing you to step away. “Thanks for letting me take this pause.”
  6. Either end the conversation by walking away OR listen to the other person’s response, acknowledge it, and reconfirm your commitment. “Yes of course you want to be heard and I want to hear you too. That will help us get the best end result. I am confident we will get to a better place tomorrow. I will talk to you then.”

The key, at this point is to make sure you take time to self-regulate, find perspective, and of course show up to re-engage.


If you need help, contact us at 604.353.5100