You’re having a heated discussion with someone close to you.  You’re upset by something they said.  Do you:

  1. Get defensive?
  2. Get even?
  3. Escalate things?

Those are common reactions when the heat is on and we’re engaged in conflict and wanting to be right, save face or win the argument.

But there is a 4th, more powerful option.  Do nothing.  In the heat of the moment when someone is trying to push your buttons, don’t say anything.  Let the ball drop.  Right at the feet of the person who is hurling rude, nasty, hurtful, unkind, untrue or disrespectful words at you.  And walk away.

That’s what I call the Echo Effect™.  (OK, it’s not really trademarked.  It just makes it look more official…)

The Echo Effect is not responding when someone says something that upsets you.  Not saying anything. Nada. Rien. Niente.

Instead you let their words echo in the space between you.  There’s enormous power in silence.  And they’re left with what they just said reverberating in their heads.  Instead of focusing on what you just said and responding to that.  And right then and there, the interaction will change.

In all the relationship work I do, whether it’s with couples, adult siblings, mothers and daughters or friends, I tell people that their best bet when the temperature starts to rise between them is to disengage.  Because nothing good ever happens (or is said) when conflict is escalating.

My incredibly wise Mother would tell me, when I was much younger and upset about something one of my siblings said or did, “You be smarter” – meaning “Don’t say anything.  Just walk away.”

We play a lot of verbal tennis in our relationships.  Someone says something and we (usually immediately) respond.  This goes back and forth a few times because we don’t want to let them have the last word or win the argument.  (What does it really mean to win or lose an argument anyway?)  So we lob something back at them and then they toss something back at us.  When does it stop?  When we realize that our inner two-year-olds are really running the show?

Have you ever walked away from one of those emotional tennis games and felt terrible because you had gotten so caught up in the ridiculous dynamic?  Or because in the heat of the moment you said something that you later regretted?

I worked with a woman, Sally, whose husband, Mark, constantly accused her of being interested in and involved with other men.  (Names have been changed.)  Sally tried everything from getting angry to defending herself to assuring him that she was only interested in him.

We talked about the Echo Effect and that Mark would continue his behavior as long as she gave him something to debate so he didn’t have to think about what he was saying. Sally decided to stop responding to his accusations.  After a while, Mark stopped accusing her.  He finally listened to what he was saying and realized how ridiculous it was.

The Echo Effect is not about playing games, controlling or manipulating anyone.  It’s about standing in your own power and not letting other people’s “stuff” control you.  It doesn’t mean you can’t respond if you choose to.  It’s about not reacting in the moment when the heat is on.

Don’t be fooled.  The Echo Effect is simple but it’s not always easy to not react when someone is pushing our buttons.

The next time someone says something that gets your blood boiling or hurts your feelings, heed my Mother’s wise counsel:  You be smarter.  Take a deep breath, don’t say a word, stand there (or walk away) and see what happens.  And let me know how it worked for you.  I bet you’ll feel pretty good about yourself.