I have talked about getting people to listen, time-outs, and the rules of engagement. Today I am going to give you ten signs that the person you are talking to is flooded or overwhelmed and if they don’t calm down there may be trouble. They are at least not listening to you. Some of these you know but some may be new and give you an invaluable key to keeping your conversations productive. Remember you can not have a productive conversation with someone who is overwhelmed.
Flooded is that condition when the heart rate and blood pressure are high and the brain function in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is dropping fast – it is the place where you say and do things that you wish you hadn’t. This is not a place to have a conversation or a relationship. The following is not intended to prepare you to fight, although you could use them as cues that you need to be ready. This is intended to allow you to take in information that the other person is giving you – letting you know that they are not really listening and if you push them, you will likely end up in an argument at best. A confrontation is likely and when the PFC turns off people do things that they regret, often!
So here we go:
1) If the other person closes their eyes they are likely telling you that they have heard enough and can’t deal with much more. Not a blink, but closing the eyes for a second or more. This is a subtle sign that most people don’t even think about.
2) If the other person looks away, perhaps closing their eyes at the same time, they are telling you that they are flooded, overwhelmed, or angry. People look away to think as well but beware.
3) People will turn part of their body or their whole body away – either to run away or to regroup for an attack. Do not push this person – back off and give them space.
4) The voice gets louder. Okay, no surprise here, we all know that, but remember it is not “knowing it” that helps – it is putting that knowledge into practice that helps you.
5) The pitch of the voice gets higher when people are stressed and on the defensive. Again this is a clear sign that they are overwhelmed.
6) If the pitch of the voice goes lower, watch out! This may be a sign of an impending attack! Little dogs yap big dogs growl.
7) Facial expressions are a dead giveaway if you are paying attention. Scowls, wide-eyes, and squinting eyes are just a few warning signs that someone is overwhelmed. Don’t ignore it, and don’t push them.
8) Eye rolling is considered the universal sign for contempt but it is also a sign that the person you are talking to is overwhelmed and not taking what you are saying seriously.
9) Verbal cues like grunts and sighs mean something – pay attention to them.
10) If it gets to tension in the hands, either,
hands shaking or clenched in fists back off quickly.
Pay attention to these cues take them as warning that you are pushing too hard for the person you are talking to – when people have melt-downs it is not good – tears, yelling, violence – all can result and none of them are productive. So now you have a list of cues that can help you know when it is time to take a time out and regroup. By the way, never say YOU NEED A TIME OUT! Always say, I need a time out because I am getting overwhelmed and this relationship is too important to me to try to communicate when I might say or do something I would regret and don’t really mean. And I know that the last statement doesn’t work for some guy in a bar but the warning signs could save your life.