Leaders Build Relationships by Avoiding Stonewalling

Have you ever been in a conflict situation where you feel your heart rate increase, sweat lines your brow, and your whole body wants to go into fight or flight mode? Yeah, we all have. Dr. Gottman refers to this as emotional flooding. When you feel emotionally flooded, especially with the same person repeatedly, the circumstances are ripe for the final horseman.

The Fourth Horsemen: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is a more common response to emotional flooding in males than in females. Normally, stonewalling is the last horsemen to show up in a relationship. Basically, stonewalling is shutting down. It is building a wall between you and the person with whom you are in conflict. Stonewalling ends the conflict but not on good or productive terms.

People stonewall for several reasons:

  • To shut down the conversation
  • To attempt to keep harmony
  • Self-protection
  • To avoid making the situation worse
  • Needing space but not knowing how to ask for it

Unfortunately, stonewalling will get the stonewaller none of their desired outcomes. Instead, stonewalling usually escalates the situation. The other person feels ignored, disrespected, frustrated, and annoyed. The end result is two people who are emotionally flooded.

Antidotes to Stonewalling

Like with any problem, the first step is to recognize stonewalling is a problem. It’s not only a problem for the receiver, but also for the stonewaller. No one wants conflict to escalate; however, stonewalling will almost always escalate a conflict.

The second step is easier said than done—STOP. The issue, of course, is that when we are emotionally flooded, we are not thinking clearly. Therefore, we revert to habitual behaviors because we perceive them as working for us in the past. This is where step one comes in.

Because no one is an effective communicator when they’re emotionally flooded, the best thing to do is pause the conversation, walk away, and regain your composure. Pausing the conversation, however, takes a verbal response to let the other person know you aren’t continuing to stonewall; you just need a break to process. Let the other person know you will resume the conversation later. Keep in mind, it takes about 30 minutes to self-soothe and bring your body back to normal emotional operating levels.

Self-Soothing is Key 

A 30-plus-minute break will not work if you continue negative thinking. Thoughts of self-righteousness, victimhood, and negativity toward the other person will only keep you emotionally flooded. Thus, the key during this break is to self-soothe. People do this in a variety of ways:

  • Exercise
  • Hobbies
  • Going for a drive
  • Listening to music
  • Visualization
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Reading
  • Enjoying nature

Find something that works for you and practice it. Resolving conflict and using conflict in productive ways requires both participants to be clear-headed and emotionally stable. Emotional flooding produces negative consequences not only for the conversation, but also for the relationship.

Thanks for reading,

DeAnne Negley

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