When someone confronts you at work, maybe directly accusing or even insulting you in public, what’s the best way to react? Dr. Linda Mintle says it’s probably best to not react and instead prepare to respond.

“In the larger culture, there’s such a moment away from objectivity and civil dialogue, and a move toward emotional reasoning, where people feel something, and because they feel it, they think it must be true. Then, when you lead with your emotions, if you feel something differently, you can become offended very easily.”

To avoid being swept away in a negative emotional response, Dr. Linda says it’s key to develop your emotional intelligence, a greater awareness of what emotions you’re feeling at a given time.

“When I feel something, hopefully I can become aware of what I’m feeling. Then with that awareness, I can regulate that emotion, so I can walk out the fruit of the Spirit: I can be patient, long-suffering, kind, and I can talk to people with civility.”

It’s all too easy to react in anger when you feel attacked. However, the Bible provides a different model.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20

Jesus also tells us that our words and how we speak to people are very important: in fact, we’ll be held accountable for them (Matthew 12:36).

“I don’t want my words to be careless. That’s the issue if you speak without thinking, you’re just speaking out of your emotions. That emotional reasoning is so popular in our culture. Then you hurt people, and things don’t go the way that they need to go.”

“Being slow to anger, to listen first, to try and speak the truth in love to somebody–it takes a lot of practice. It’s being aware of your emotions and then being able to regulate them, which is the work we all have to to do. I think it’s good to remember…a tough one to actually act out. We can slow down our own response, and really try to listen to what the person says.”

How can we learn to respond constructively and faithfully without increasing the tension in that moment of confrontation?

“First, I ask myself, is this really worth it? Is this really an assault on my values, or is this just somebody upset, having a bad day, giving an opinion, lashing out at me, etc.? Choose your battles. Is it a battle you really want to fight with this person at this time?”

“When you’re feeling really upset, acknowledge that the person is upset. Make sure that you’re speaking calmly. Again, be very aware of your emotional state: take a couple of deep breaths and really try to speak calmly, even if you’re being attacked by somebody. It helps if you just repeat what they say–‘this is what I’m hearing from you’–and then avoid the arguing back. Work hard to stay calm, and  re-engage that thinking part of your brain.”

She says a really good technique is the one we teach kids when they’re upset: take a time-out.

“Just say, ‘I need a minute,’  take a time-out. Go over to a corner of the building or something, and calm yourself down. Pray and say ‘God, help me stay calm, help me to be slow to anger here.’  Take a deep breath and know that He’s going to help you with this.”

Dr. Linda Mintle is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed clinical social worker and national expert on relationships and the psychology of food, weight and body image. With 30 years of clinical experience working with couples, families and individuals, she brings her common sense approach to people who want to live in positive mental health.

Respond vs. react

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