Introducing: Low Pressure Conversation

This post contains a free printable to use at home or at the office.

My first career was working for the news: 1992-2001. As a producer, I was trained to use high-pressure language to stress people out because when people are stressed out, they tune into the news.

We got higher ratings during stressful times — it’s how we made money.

For many people in the United States, our current stress levels are high even though statistically, many things are better than they ever have been worldwide! I’ve had a few conversations with people who blame “the media” for stressing us out, but who do you blame: me (a producer), or someone who clicks on headlines containing high-pressure language?

Finding someone to blame for our stress won’t help us.

Here’s a simple concept I’ve developed that does help. I call it Low-Pressure Conversation. But before I teach you about low-pressure words, it’s helpful for me to teach you about recognizing high-pressure ones.

When people are stressed out, sometimes they use high-pressure words. High-pressure words are useful when someone is in danger, but using them when not necessary can create more stress and limit problem-solving abilities.

What are high-pressure words? Here are some examples:
   > Absolutes and generalizations: Always, have-to, must, never, no, everyone, no one.
   > “Us vs. Them” language.
   > Should.
   > Promise, secret, hate, best, perfect, trust, limited, now, poison.
   > Cuss words and words of condemnation.
   > Words that make you feel strong emotions such as anger, sadness, shame or blame (these are the types of words we used in the news to get your juices flowing and keep you tuned in).
   > Other words according to your life experiences.

Listen for these words in your family. Listen for them at work. Look for them while you read. They’re clues that someone might be stressed-out. Here are some steps you can take so that a high-pressure word won’t stress you out:

  1. Notice the word.
  2. Ask yourself: “How does that word make me feel?”
  3. Get curious about the person using the word. How are they feeling?
  4. Think about how you would like to respond to the word.
  5. Choose your response thoughtfully so you don’t contribute to the stress. Mainly, focus on noticing: Who is stressed out and why?

Also notice when you’re tempted to use a high-pressure word. Here are some helpful steps you can take:

  1. Notice the word you are tempted to use. (Or perhaps you’ve used it already — in that case, you can take a step back, take a breath, and choose a different direction.)
  2. Ask yourself: “How am I feeling? Am I stressed-out?”
  3. Get curious about how others around you are feeling.
  4. Think about low-pressure words you might like to use instead. (I give a few examples below.)
  5. Choose your words thoughtfully because what you say and how you say it matters. It makes a difference in your life and the lives of others around you. (This includes typed words like text messages and internet posts.)

What are low-pressure words?
   > Maybe, might, probably, sometimes, perhaps, usually, try.
   > Loving or kind language.
   > Considerate language, with the feelings of others (including yourself) in mind.

(When you are finished, re-read this blog post and notice low-pressure words!)

When someone uses a high-pressure word, it might be a sign of stress. You can develop an eye and ear to notice those words, and that awareness will help you make decisions to lower your stress. Sometimes, your low-pressure choices will even help to lower the stress of others.

For example, sometimes homework time is stressful and high-pressure words pop up from my kids like “I hate spelling.” That’s a good moment for me to take a breath (because sometimes I’m stressed out too) and say something like,

“I’m feeling some stress because it’s been a long day. Are you feeling some stress too?” Or, “It’s normal to feel some frustration when you’re learning something new.”

Notice how I didn’t talk about how they should like spelling, or how they needed to get their homework done quickly. Telling them how they “should” feel or what they “should” do, especially with a time crunch, adds pressure to a situation.

When I’m teaching folks around town, “should” always comes up as a high-pressure word. Where do you see “should” in your life? Do you say “should” to yourself? Who thinks you “should” be doing something differently? Who do you think “should” do something differently? Just focusing in on this one word can remove pressure from your life and the lives of others around you.

Removing pressure helps people to learn, solve problems and think more clearly.

Low-Pressure Conversation takes more time than plain conversation because usually, it doesn’t mean saying the first thing that comes to mind. Low-Pressure Conversation might actually look like saying nothing, more like listening. Or it might mean saying something unexpected that takes more words than usual. Often a low-pressure focus ends up being about emotions that are happening underneath the conversation. It may sound strange, but if you focus on the emotions happening underneath a topic, then the topic will often resolve itself (or a solution will become apparent).

To experiment with Low-Pressure Conversation, download and print this fridge sheet. When you post it at home or at work, talk to your friends, family, and co-workers about it. Work together to develop an awareness of high-pressure language. And then notice how you can use Low-Pressure Conversation to impact your work and relationships in positive ways.

Developing the skill of Low-Pressure Conversation takes time and practice (you won’t master it overnight). Eventually, high-pressure words (even high-pressure words you tell yourself) will stand out as an opportunity for thoughtfulness. And the more you use low-pressure words, the more you’ll experience the benefits of having less stress on your mind, personally and professionally.

Would you like to read more? I wrote a whole post about the word “should.”

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