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How to take the emotional charge out of an argument

Updated: Jul 8

Sharing my podcast on this topic and hoping you might subscribe to my substack which is where I share lots of posts, videos and podcasts mostly of me talking about something I think you'll find interesting. I know a 'proper' podcaster will interview great guests and do the whole thing professionally but this is just me. So here's the link to the episode and you should be able to view this wherever you usually find your podcasts.

If you prefer to read rather than listen and if you'd like more detail about how you can use this aspect of NLP which is in fact one of what we call the 'metaprogrammes', I'd like to share with you the chapter on this topic from my book 'Secrets of the NLP Masters'.

The power of disassociation

To disassociate is to separate ourselves from the emotions of a situation. We mentally step outside an interaction and watch what’s happening from a detached perspective. From this place we can get a different perspective, a helicopter view. It is an extremely useful technique in conflict or when faced with aggressive behaviour. We can disassociate by taking the other person’s perspective, often referred to as position two but we shall be talking here about position three from where we can see both position one (ourselves) and position two (the other person). 

Disassociation is a useful technique if you want to put some distance between yourself and a memory. As a general rule, think of your pleasant memories in an associated way to get the most enjoyment from them and your uncomfortable memories in a disassociated way to avoid the bad feelings.” Joseph O’Connor

The objectivity we get from standing back or taking a helicopter view can be extremely valuable. When we’re in a situation our emotions can get in the way of noticing what’s going on, particularly when there’s conflict or aggressive behaviour. Third position is also called the ‘meta’ position and features in many NLP patterns and change techniques providing an opportunity for the person to stand outside their own experience when that’s required.” Steve Bannister and Amanda Vickers

Sometimes we naturally drift into a disassociated state when we get bored and experience a sort of floating off feeling and we might drift back into being associated when something happens to bring us back such as laughter, hearing our name being mentioned or someone physically nudging us ! The gift of being able to deliberately choose to become associated or disassociated enables us to apply an NLP technique to manage our state so we become more resourceful. We would choose to be associated when we want to be fully ‘in the moment’ and empathise with a friend, support a colleague or enjoy an emotional film. It’s the state we use for anchoring because we want to collect the essential intensity of the emotion to anchor it at the most extreme so that we can resurrect it whenever we apply the anchor and want to get that intense emotion such as confidence, happiness, success .

When we need to focus and concentrate in an exam or for a sport, the only way we can do this is to be associated. Imagine trying to put a key hole with your mental state floating off somewhere else?!

We want to be disassociated when the going gets tough and we fear we might break down, cry, lose our temper, hit someone or otherwise ‘lose the plot’. When we go outside ourselves by disassociating we ease ourselves out of the intensity, step away from the battlefield and think more clearly about our next move or what we want to say. It gives us the chance to look at the situation more objectively and from another perspective. Sometimes when we find ourselves getting depressed or overwhelmed with emotion and stress, taking this helicopter view can allow us to be more realistic about our situation. Things are never quite as bad as they seem when we step away. You can learn and observe more easily from a distance and select the parts you want to retain and repeat, rejecting those that are not needed. You aren’t completely free of feeling when you are disassociated, you will just not be drowning in them.


Here’s an exercise to enable you to consciously move yourself from associated to disassociated and back again several times because when you can do it consciously you’ll be able to recognise where you are subconsciously and change it to where you need to be for the situation you’re in. For example, if you find yourself drifting off when you’re in the middle of writing, you can ensure you meet your deadline by quickly associating.

To associate – sit quietly and think about something really nice, a happy time, somewhere beautiful or with friends, family. You decide what you want to focus on. When you’ve got the memory, imagine it’s happening right now, today. You are living it as if it’s right here in the room. You can hear the people, see the scene and feel what you are feeling.

To disassociate – imagine you have moved out of your own body and you are the other side of the room or above you looking down on someone (you) and watching them enjoy this happy time. Notice everything you see and hear happen to yourself as if you are the observer and not the participant in the action.

What do you notice that’s different when you associate and when you disassociate?

Disassociation is a great technique for dealing with conflict. Whether this is at work, at home or school there will be times when disagreements get out of hand. One person gets over excited and ‘loses the plot’ maybe says something out of order that spills the argument over into a row.

At this point it is really important for you to be able to disassociate. Even in that split second heat of the moment situation you can quickly step out of yourself and have a quick look to see what’s going on.

Imagine for a moment you can zoom up above and look down. Can you step into each person’s shoes? Can you see what position one wants and position two? How could you help them to resolve their issue? What needs to happen?

Just the act of stepping out of it emotionally takes the heat out of these situations. It also enables you to find points of agreement. Arguments are constant mismatch patterns and this is bad for rapport unless each person actually prefers to mismatch in which case you will spot that from the disassociated view. If they don’t or at least one of them doesn’t then they are not in rapport and need to find points on which to match. Can you see one from the helicopter view?

You'll get lots of other ideas of how to use NLP techniques from the book of course.

 Check out my website for more about NLP and how it can help you as a parent. Also you may be interested to train with me.






































































Disassociation is like an out of body experience giving us the ability to take an objective dispassionate view of the situation, listen to both sides of the argument whether the argument is within you or outside of you and take an uninvolved angle on the events. Once you have practised it a few times you’ll be able to do it ‘at the drop of a hat’ which is just as well because it does need to be done in an instant in many cases to avert the conflict or depression escalating. Using this NLP technique gives you the opportunity to manage your state.


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