A time-out according to Wikipedia, “Is a form of behavioral modification that involves temporarily separating a person from an environment where unacceptable behavior has occurred.” It is a disciplining technique we associate with children. The logic behind the time-out method is that if you remove the child from a fun surrounding when they do something wrong, then it will eliminate that behavior.
Although this is a popular discipline method with children, it is also one that adults can and should use as well. I am not ashamed to admit that my husband Bernard has successfully used this technique on me, whether he is aware of it or not.
Before I explain how he did this, I must first clarify why it was necessary. My preset response when in conflict is to fight. By this I mean, I won’t listen, I get defensive, I make demands, I speak in absolutes, and lastly, the worst, in my opinion, I yell. Many times when my emotions are running high, I don’t even realize my voice has gone up two octaves. Although I have made numerous changes in how I engage in conflict, I feel I will always be a work in progress. It is not simple to make modifications to our behavior without mindfulness, perseverance, and I believe the help of others. Which brings me back to my husband, Bernard and how he assisted in correcting my conflict behavior.
We got into a heated conflict some months back. I was yelling, and Bernard asked me to stop. I responded how I always did when he said this to me, “I am not yelling.” Finally, Bernard had reached his tolerance limit and told me that we were having a verbal time-out for five minutes. I began to protest, but he held up his hand implying he would not be continuing unless I stop speaking for five minutes. So I sat in silence, at first I was annoyed by this pause.
It felt like a break and taking a break from conflict always felt counter-intuitive to me. While I know it can be helpful for you to calm down and be more productive when you come back to it, I still felt like it thwarted the momentum of the discussion. Usually, one person initiates the break, and it is that person who seems to hold power as to when the conversation recommences. Being as I am impatient I never liked conflicts to linger, and I found when breaks were initiated it prolonged a resolution.
As I continued to sit in silence, I noticed that I had calm down. When Bernard spoke after the five minutes, he said, ” Okay, I am willing to listen to you if you speak calmly, if you start yelling I’m initiating another time-out.” I felt irritated that he spoke to me like a kid, but in hindsight, my yelling did mirror a temper-tantrum thrown by a child. Now months later, I can acknowledge that his insistence on a five-minute time-out when I would start yelling (this occurred several more times) is what led to the minimizing of that behavior. I now will catch and correct myself before he even has an opportunity to say something.
If you are like me, you are not a fan of time-outs when in a fight. A break meaning you leave the room or house, go for a drive or a walk, or do something else for a while and then come back to the conversation after some time has passed. Try taking a five-minute time-out instead. It removes the fear that the conflict will go unaddressed or that you won’t revisit it later. While also giving you a moment to calm yourself down.
Just like with children, a time-out can be beneficial for addressing and even eliminating poor behavior and assist you in becoming a better you in conflict.
Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management