The issue of instinctive versus conscious emotional response is what I always deal with during difficult situations. More often, the basic instinct of self preservation prevails before I would reflect on how the situation should be effectively managed. This potentially leads to short pointless conversations before I could reflect and handle the communication in a more appropriate manner.
These responses are incited usually by erratic or irrational behavior or arguments that threaten to dominate the other person, thus dominating the conversation itself. The most important thing to do is to deal with instinctive emotion as soon as possible after its provocation. I take a deep breath, or smile genuinely to release such emotion. I listen actively and interject some points where there is a perception of a win-win situation. And if the other person does not want to reach out to ease any tension, I try to defuse the tension with a little humor or praise.
However, this does not mean that I give up my reasoning. I make sure that I am assertive with my arguments. Being assertive differs from aggression since assertion is a behavior which “enables a person to act in his or her own best interests, to stand up for herself or himself without undue anxiety, to express honest feelings comfortably, or to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others”(Alberti & Emmons, 1982). There are many components of assertive behavior such as voice, eye contact, posture, facial expression, delivery among others. Moreover, assertive behavior usually leads to compromise or victory.
Individual identity dictates our basic reaction but there are appropriate ways that we can learn to manage difficult situations. Being reflective and assertive especially in difficult communication situations ensure effectiveness and desirable results.
Emmons, A. and Alberti, R. (1982) Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships. New York: Impact Publishers.