In this article, we will discuss how a lack of body awareness is one of the common problems in relationships. What does this mean? Read on to find out …

In my last article series on Crucial Conversations, I identified ways to stay focused on what you actually want from a conversation, and how to stay personally present within it. Another crucial skill that helps clients improve their dialogue skills is recognizing when safety is at risk, or when the conversation has veered off course.

Awareness of dialogue-killing behavior or patterns is highly effective in helping you stay beneficially present in the conversation. Awareness of dialogue-killing patterns means seeing warning signs and gaining the option to pause the content of the conversation in time to restore safety and reestablish mutual respect and purpose. Doing so is dealing with the conditions of how you’re talking with one another. This pause is hard to execute, but greatly increases efficiency – now you can get back to content without the reactivity.

Here are the three key areas for developing awareness; they will help you learn to identify when a conversation is turning crucial.

Learn to Identify When a Conversation is Turning Crucial

We already know that a conversation has turned crucial when there are three conditions present: high emotions, differing opinions, and high stakes (meaning the conversation matters, or how it turns out will have disproportionate influence on your life). Sometimes conversations turn crucial before we know it.

Watching for signs in these three areas can help cue you in before it’s too late:

Sign #1 – Body Awareness & Physical Signals

Become a trained expert on what happens in your body when conversations get tough. Perhaps your stomach tightens, or your eyes get dry. You may feel a rush of blood to your head (some people get hot ears, or ‘see red’), or your heartbeat may increase and intensify. You could feel lightheaded; your limbs may feel heavy or full of energy. Pay special attention to any tensed muscles or body movement habits, including fidgets and crossing your arms, etc.

Often bodies give the first cues that something is out of the ordinary. This is likely an activation of your sympathetic nervous system – or acute stress response, commonly known as Fight or Flight. Your body is preparing itself to handle danger!

Here are the scientific details:

The sympathetic nervous system sends out impulses to glands and smooth muscles and tells the adrenal medulla to release epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) into the bloodstream. These “stress hormones” cause several changes in the body, including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

The important thing to know is that when you get aroused for danger, your body diverts blood and energy in ways that help you kill a threat or flee from it. This does not help you have good conversations! You’ve just lost your hardware: the big clump of grey matter at the front of your brain called the prefrontal cortex – it’s one of the things that make humans special.

In a conversation, you don’t want to kill, you want your hardware so you can run your special Crucial Conversations software! Learning to take a quick scan of your body can help you identify emotions or tension you wouldn’t have otherwise caught.

When you notice tension or pain in your body, just the simple act of focusing on relaxing those muscles is a powerful and often highly effective way to de-escalate your emotions and transition out of reactivity and/or trauma. This is your power (think Jedi) to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows your heart rate back down and soothes your whole system, restarting your hardware.  You are now back to a place where you can have healthy dialogue. It will be helpful to create a mental or written log of symptoms you experience in your body when a conversation turns crucial.

Starting to notice patterns of similar symptoms and connecting those symptoms with coinciding emotions will help you do two things. Primarily, it will help you quickly identify dynamics in future conversations, when the same symptom occurs. Secondly, when the same physical symptoms show up regularly, it will illuminate where you have triggers or past emotional pain that is still operating in your life – this is a great opportunity to focus on doing specific healing work in that area.

Watching for differences in how your conversation partner is holding their body is also a helpful awareness to build. For example, if you notice their brow is furrowed, their muscles seem tighter, or repeating a physical pattern (sometimes as simple as fidgeting in a certain way with their hands, or tapping their leg) – these are often signs that something is going on for the other person. It may be time to step out of the conversation and restore safety or take a break.

Christian Counseling for Common Problems in Relationships

Perhaps you are already noticing symptoms and patterns, or that your conversations are getting derailed. If you are interested in working on communication from a Christian strengths-based perspective, I offer both individual and couples/family therapy at my offices in Bothell and Downtown Seattle. Please feel free to contact me to inquire about setting up an initial session. I look forward to working on crucial conversations with you!

“Black Arm Warmers,” courtesy of Christine Cavalier, Flickr Creative Commons; “Boxing,” courtesy of U.S. Army, Flickr Creative Commons; “Road Trip,” courtesy of Alejandro Salinas,, Public Domain 



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