How to calm oneself and dissolve conflict?

Have you been in a situation where you felt you weren’t in control or wish you had kept calm? Or wished you had been able to defuse an argument? Or aghast at getting into a RED fog and can’t remember what came over you?

Well, this can be explained by the power of our brains. Once familiar with the wonders of our brain then we can master more easily those impulsive urges and flashes of anger.

The beauty of our brains is that we have three brains; Reptilian, Mammalian and Thinking. Revealing the evolutionary journey, each brain is another layer of evolution and development. Like brain markers, showing our journey into sophisticated thinking. We share this capacity with dolphins and primates.

The first one, the Reptilian brain is a primitive brain. This brain helps with all basic functioning, from breathing, digesting, elimination, to the temperature of our bodies. Whilst helping with self-preservation, it makes us territorial and incites us to aggression very quickly. It is very impulsive and seeks more short term remedies. Not so into long term thinking.

We then have an intermediate brain, the Mammalian brain and this is more emotional, can work in groups, invests in others, can be angry and emotional but also nurturing. It helps with more complex emotions, instincts and memories, stimulation and hormones. It helps to process information that we see and helps with short term and long term memories. It also makes us socially aware.

Finally we have the Rational brain, the more sophisticated brain. It helps with intellectual tasks, language, good at long term forward planning, able to foresee consequences, is rational and calmer.

So when our alarm goes off, the Fight or Flight instinct comes into play and this comes from our primitive brain. The Fight is to help us stand our ground, defend our position, attack, dig in and persevere. This was to help us when faced with a situation that needs us to galvanize our physical strength and to scare off our opponent.

The Flight as it’s name indicates, helps us to run off, retreat, give way, remove ourselves from danger and move on unscathed.

This alarm system helps us to make a snap decision in order to get on with a task and saves us in quick time.

No Negotiation can happen when the reptilian brain is fired up for Fight or Flight. It takes over the other parts of the brain in order for us to get out of imminent danger. This can explain why people get fired up or want to leave a room when an argument arises. When in that mode one can seem unreachable or hard to reason with, that is because the language part of brain is not working to it’s full capacity. It’s as if our brain is on ‘alarm’ mode and the more rational and reasoning parts of us are hijacked by the more impulsive self and we can’t process any more complications or listen to anyone. ‎The brain needs as much power over the body to get out of danger.

You may note that after an argument you may, the next day, reflect to yourself and regret what happened, ‘ I lost it (fight or flight) and now I wish I hadn’t said that or done that (rational brain)’.

So what to do?

Well we need to stroke the reptilian brain, not prod it into firing with all cylinders at the mere slight, whilst getting the ‘frontal-lobe thinking brain’ into action.  The human pre-fontal cortex brain is an analytical resolving brain and is more methodical. So it will take time to react and function.

Unless of course you are faced with a life threatening situation and you need to move fast, then of course rely on your ‘get out of here’ brain.

So how do we stroke the reptilian brain? This is when others can play an influential part. ‎Or we can self- monitor, recognising and pre-empting the signs in ourselves that the TNT stick is near the lit match. Take a deep breath to calm the stress signals, talk to yourself in a calm manner, get away from any confusing stimuli. So what to do when someone is in that mode and you want to stroke the brain into a more relaxed state:


Use active listening, use verbal prompts. ‘I see, I understand’. Be patient and don’t interrupt. Get them to talk and focus – this will help activate the rational brain.

Please ‎don’t say, ‘calm down’ this implies that they have lost in and will only embarrass them or make them feel possibly humiliated.


Don’t take sides, identify the problem and make sure you understand. Gently and succinctly paraphrase what they are saying.


Concentrate on a solution and get them out of the tight corner, ‘what can I do to help? I will get back to you with an answer’. Allow them a way out with more than one option.


Don’t patronise but thank them for listening. They need to feel in control and seek a more Win-Win situation.