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6 Responses That Help Defuse a Tense Situation

defuse a tense situation

How do you defuse a tense situation? I often find myself reacting instead of responding when someone is spitting fire in my direction–especially if that person is one of my kids or my spouse. I don’t remember where I heard this quote, but it is so true: “When you live in reaction, you give your power away. Then you get to experience what you gave your power to.”

I know I don’t have to defend or explain myself when I am under pressure, but usually my reactionary genes forget that logic. Here are 6 responses I’m practicing that provide space to compose myself in various situations. None of them commit me to taking on another’s problem or solving a conflict immediately. Each response needs to be spoken with a calm tone of voice.

  1. “I’m sorry you are upset.”
  2. “That’s interesting.”
  3. “I’ll be glad to talk with you when your voice is calmer.”
  4. “I need to think about this more. I’ll get back to you later.”
  5. “I’m not available to help you with that right now.”
  6. “Let’s talk when you are feeling less stressed.”

The trick is to use a one liner before your reactionary genes take over. If needed, repeat the one liner several times instead of getting drawn into the fighting arena.

Sometimes these one liners work well as text messages or email. They also come in handy written on a card and placed next to the phone for easy access during disturbing phone conversations.

Proverbs 15:1-2 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of fools gushes folly” (NIV). What have you been gushing lately—folly or a gentle answer? What one liners have you found helpful during difficult conversations?

In Him together, Susan Gaddis

For more tips on communication, check out Chapter 11, “Rules and Tools for Kingdom Communication,” in my book, Help, I’m Stuck With These People For the Rest of Eternity!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Kathy

    Good and timely reminder – thank you for your faithfulness to share what God puts on your heart!

  2. mary

    I’ve heard you use these! Hmm…what does that say about me? Well, I AM your daughter so I guess that’s more than appropriate. I think the other thing you’ve taught me (that I’d add to this list) is to take a moment and try to view things from the other person’s perspective. To see where they are coming from. In essence to try to hear their heart above and beyond the delivery of their message. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but I think it leads to deeper relationship.

  3. Mc Chavez

    Mary, I love your comment…and reminded to do the same, and thank you for doing that with me!

  4. Susan Gaddis

    Thanks for your comments, ladies. I write these posts mostly as a reminder to myself, so I’m glad I’m not alone.

  5. Donna

    I love Mary’s response! Personally, I think the wording of the six ways to respond sound condescending and even in some cases could even be inflammatory – of course that’s just my humble opinion.

  6. Susan Gaddis

    Good point, Donna. They do need to be spoken with a smile and in a respectful tone of voice.

    1. Elizabeth

      I don’t mean any disrespect. But I do want to share my experience with these options and a tool that has helped me recently.

      In my experience, some of these responses said by themselves have only made situations worse (even with respectful intentions).

      Just like “bless your heart” (mainly in the southern United States) can be used as an insult, sometimes these words can be as insulting.

      In the cases that I have heard the second option spoken to me, I felt that they didn’t care about the situation or me at all. I felt they were not only distancing themselves from the issue, but also mocking my point of view.

      I have seen this happen to others as well.

      The following is website that contains a tool that I found helpful for my very recent situations.


      Under the heading “Identify the Cause”

      1. Susan Gaddis

        Good points, Elizabeth, and I don’t feel you’re being disrespectful at all. You simply added a perspective that’s helpful and to which I totally agree. The context in which we respond must always be cushioned with grace and kindness with the intent to either listen, or give ourselves some space to calm down and plan how we want to respond before we react. Sometimes, it’s better to not engage rather than get involved in someone else’s drama, and these responses have given me a way to step out of the situation when needed. So much depends on our relationship with the angry person, the circumstances, and any boundaries that are being disrespected by the person or ourselves. Thanks for sharing the link. I thought it was a great article too.

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