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Emergency Measures for Escalating Arguments

Once the swirl of an argument starts, it can be difficult to find your way back to connection. You might feel angry and scared and want to protect needs for understanding, respect, and consideration. Habit energy can be like a runaway semi truck going downhill. The brakes burn out and you find yourself sliding into defending, attacking, or blaming.

Growing up in the Colorado mountains, runaway truck ramps were a common sight. At the bottom of a steep downgrade a runaway truck could suddenly swerve off onto an immediate steep uphill made of layers of loose gravel the truck could sink into.

Here are some runaway truck ramps to help you downshift into NVC consciousness when you feel like you are sliding out of control:

Ask Questions that help identify Needs:

  • "What's most important to you (to me) right now?"
  • "There is something here we really care about. What is it?"
  • "What am I (are you) afraid of losing?"
  • "What is the part you really want me to understand?"
  • "What am I trying to get to here?"

Create Space

  • "Give me a minute to process what you said"
  • "Hang on, let me go to the bathroom and come back."
  • "You said (repeat what the other just said)"
  • "I'd like to take a 20 minute time-out and come back."

Name Your Feeling

  • "I feel disconnected"
  • "I'm reacting."
  • "I'm nervous right now"
  • "I feel defensive."
  • "My heart is racing."
  • "I'm going fuzzy."

Name What's Happening

  • "I notice I just blamed you."
  • "I'm defending myself."
  • "I'm thinking you are judging me."
  • "I'm repeating myself."
  • "My voice is getting louder."
  • "I'm talking more quickly."
  • "I'm moving away from you."

Use Pattern Interrupts

  • "How about a glass of water?"
  • Howl like a Jackal
  • Say something you are grateful for
  • Take the conversation to another room or go outside
  • Plan a sign or keyword with the other person to signal you are in disconnect

This week, notice when you move from disconnect to connection within yourself or with others. Write down what you did to make that shift. Create your own list of runaway truck ramps.

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Making a Safe Space for Requests
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Helpful Time-outs

1 Response

  1. Jul 23, 2010

    Name What’s Happening

    “I notice I just blamed you.”
    “I’m defending myself.”
    “I’m thinking you are judging me.”
    “I’m repeating myself.”
    “My voice is getting louder.”
    “I’m talking more quickly.”
    “I’m moving away from you.”

    I've noticed when I do this type of thing it's very helpful. Seems that it give both people's witnessing presence an opportunity to show up....

    Thanks L,


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