Retraining Your Reactions: How to Become a Calmer Communicator


I am a recovering immediate-responder. During my time in Corporate Land, I was infamous for my overreactions. I took any policy, staffing, or procedure change personally and wanted everyone to know about my displeasure. It was exhausting.

Take the Timesheet policy change for example. When my former company changed their policy on tracking non-exempt employees’ time, I was working three time zones away from the office. As soon as the email arrived in my inbox, my blood started to boil. “How dare they police employees!” I pounded on my keyboard as I wrote snippy emails to my supervisor demanding an explanation. I claimed it was on behalf of my team.

This was almost a weekly occurrence with only a minor shift in the topic. My perception was that my company was out to take advantage of the little guy and it was my job to defend them. Now I wasn’t this paranoid about everything, but I definitely blew things out of proportion on first glance.

So how did I shift away from being a reactive shit-stirrer every day?

First, as a disclaimer, I still have strong pulls to revert back to this way of reacting, so having a strong and consistent practice to change your behavior is key.

1.       Take a Deep Breath – I feel it in my body when I’m tensing up. My chest is tight. My neck is like a rock and my temples feel like a vice grip. I find that taking deep breaths (4 second inhale into my lower belly, holding for 4 seconds, and then exhaling for 4 seconds) helps to reduce the stress reaction. I try to take at least five breaths until I feel the change in my body.

2.       Be Inquisitive When Reading or Listening – When I can come from a place of wanting to understand, I can get the full picture of the situation, see more options and solutions, and reduce my assumptions and judgments.

3.       What Can I Learn from This? – This past week I got some critical feedback. It made me want to run and hide or defend myself, but I paused and asked myself, “What is this trying to teach me?” So I listened, asked questions in a neutral tone and within ten minutes the issue was resolved and I wasn’t carrying a load of yucky feelings for the day.

4.       Put Yourself in Their Shoes – If you are prone to only see things from your vantage point or interpret things as happening to you, step into the role of the person on the other side of the table, phone, or computer screen. What kind of day do you think they’ve had? What do you think they need right now to have a better day? Even if you’re getting screamed at, know #1 you don’t deserve it #2 it’s not about you. This doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does release the responsibility you’re probably taking on and internalizing.

5.       Smile When You Read Emails – I find that I can change the way I hear tone from others when I smile as I read.

6.       Don’t Be The First to Respond – I have a tendency to jump into conversations before the other person has finished their thought. In cases like this, I’m not actually listening, but instead crafting my response. You don’t have to get the last word in either.

7.       Create Your Communication Intention – How do you want to show up with others? If you don’t like how you’re feeling about your dynamic, how do you want to feel? Write down those descriptors and keep them nearby and focus on them often. People and situations will trigger you, but only you are in charge of your reactions. No one made you get mad. No one made you lose your composure. It’s all you, so own it and start making changes on a minute-to-minute basis.