Most of us have seen it, and many of us have done it.
An easy-going, pleasant conversation accidentally strays into an unseen danger zone. The atmosphere gets tense and prickly, then suddenly you’re getting yelled at. And you’re yelling back.
Or you ask what you think is a simple question, and BOOM the defences go up and... you’re yelling at each other. Or you’re yelling at the kids. Or a total stranger.
It’s hard to believe that something so relationally damaging as yelling could also be such a common go-to when a situation breaks down. In fact, yelling is so destructive that it’s like pouring acid on relationship goodwill.
It’s not as though yelling even works; when was the last time you felt grateful and receptive when being yelled at?
There’s usually something else working behind the scenes of a yeller. Sometimes they are feeling overwhelmed, or disrespected, or powerless. They might be feeling undermined or intensely frustrated, or even just exhausted.
While being aware of those feelings can be helpful, awareness is not quite the same as resolving the situation.
Rather than screaming at one another, it is far better to use logic and natural consequences to resolve intense and difficult situations.
Natural consequences occur without enforcement by anyone: the consequence is naturally tied to the event, and is allowed to play out.
For instance, the child who forgets their school jumper must choose between being cold and staying inside at lunchtime; the teen who racks up traffic violations gets their car impounded; the teen who forgets to do their laundry has no clean clothes to wear.
And no one has to say a word.
Of course, it’s only fair to give plenty of warning if you’re changing behaviour that has been ingrained for years, so if you want logical consequences to work, you will need to have a conversation and be sure it’s understood.
These conversations have an “If -Then” theme about them.
If you keep forgetting to let me know that you won’t be home for dinner, then you will no longer be included in our dinner plans.
If you continue to treat me like your on-call taxi service, then as a taxi service, I have the right to go off duty, and you will be walking;
or maybe “If I continue to find your stuff all over the lounge after I have asked you to pick it up, then I will black-bag what I find, take it to the local Hospice shop, and you buy it back from them.
There are likely to be plenty of objections, or even disbelief, but usually a person only need experience the consequences once or twice to realise that it’s within their power to avoid them.
With natural consequences in place, the need for yelling subsides and a more peaceful and harmonious household or workplace is often the result.
Steve is the Director of Relationship Matters Ltd. He holds two applied Bachelor's degrees (Counselling & Addiction) and a P.G. Dip. in Applied Social Practice. Steve is married with two children and lives in West Auckland.