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Episode # 530   Doug Noll - How to Turn Anger into Peace in 90 Seconds

About The Episode:

Imagine a seriously angry person in front of you right now. Their face is bright red. They're breathing heavily. Their fists are clenched. Now, imagine having the power to calm this person down in 90 seconds or less - all by saying just a few specific words. You'll learn those exact words on today's brand new episode of The Inspiration Show - and as you can surely imagine, it's a fantastic superpower to have! Joining us today is the brilliant Douglas Noll, a lawyer turned mediator and peacemaker who helps people from all walks of life - including violent criminals - live from a space of unshakable peace and calm.

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Episode # 530 Doug Noll - How to Turn Anger into Peace in 90 Seconds

NL: Hi everyone! My name is Natalie Ledwell and this is the Inspiration Show. Today on the show, my special guest is going to be talking about how we can de-escalate an aggressive situation. How to calm an angry person in 90 seconds or less. We’re going to be talking about his amazing work, and being able to have uncomfortable conversations, and to be calm in very aggressive kind of conversation, ah, situations. But before I introduce my special guest today, I just want to remind you that if you are watching this show live on Facebook or if you’re watching it on our YouTube channel later on, make sure that you click the link below this video after the show is over so you can take my 30 second quiz to figure out what is holding you back from success. So, please let me introduce my special guest, Lawyer turned Peacemaker Doug Noll. How are you Doug?

DN: I’m well. How are you today?

NL: I am absolutely fabulous. Now, this is a very interesting conversation to be having right now. I think that there is quite a lot of upheaval on the planet at the moment. And when we’re looking at this world, the kind of conversations we’re talking about that can be quite, you know, emotional, happen not just face-to-face but social media and a whole lot of other mediums as well. So I’m looking forward to chatting to you about how we can handle those situations but before we do that why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and your story and how you got to do this kind of work.

DN: Sure. I, my professional background, is as a Lawyer. I graduated in law school in 1977 and clerked for a judge for a year, and then went into private practice in 1978, in September. Tried my first jury trial in November of 1978 and for the next 22 years, tried cases of all different kinds. Along the way I began to realize that maybe, although I was a very good trial lawyer, I began to realize that I was not serving people in the way that I wanted. So I had a long conversation with myself and eventually enrolled in a new program, Master’s Degree program at Fresno Pacific University in Fresno California, which is the West Coast Mennonite University, and that Master’s Degree program was a study, was peacemaking in complex studies because I was really interested in learning more about human conflict and that was in the mid ‘90s and it really turned my head around about what I saw were the deficiencies in our legal system in terms of how it really served for people and also gave me a lot of hints about why people fight, what they fight about when they fight, and led me on a journey to explore how I could serve people as a mediator and peacemaker to help them resolve really difficult conflicts. So I left my practice, law practice, in 2000. I was a senior partner in a major firm and my life really began at 50 and since that time I have worked in thousands of conflicts helping people solve problems. The work that I do today is working in difficult conflicts, but most particularly for the last seven years I’ve been training murderers in California prisons, life inmates and long term inmates, to be peacemakers and mediators within the prison environment and we’ve used, developed, a set of escalation skills that allows people in potentially violent situations to calm things down within 90 seconds and that’s what led to me writing a book.

NL: Wow.

DN:  That show is kind of warm up.

NL: So you’ve gone to the, probably that you know, the part of the population that really need these skills the most, and you’ve done, you know, seven years of experience with that to be able to write this book which is just incredible. So, um, so what do you think are the, you know, the main issues when it comes to conflict and why people can’t seem to be able to see eye-to-eye?

DN:  Well it turns out that our brains are functioning in a fairly quirky way when it comes to conflict. What happens if the conflict becomes intense enough is that the emotional centers of our brains activate. They become highly activated and send signals to the prefrontal cortex that really, essentially, shuts the prefrontal cortex down so that we can’t think our way out of emotional problems and until we have learned how to process the emotions we’re experiencing, we’re completely incapable of problem-solving. And this is how every human brain is hardwired across the planet. And there have been some groundbreaking studies by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA that show how this all functions in the brain, and it turns out that there is very simple technique that is extremely effective at quieting down the emotional centers of the brain, allowing the prefrontal cortex to come back online so that a very angry upset person can literally be calmed down in 90 seconds or less. And if the listener just follows the three simple steps will feel completely calm and safe and secure and powerful without losing his or her cool. It’s really quite amazing.

NL: Right. So can you tell us what the three steps are, coz I’m imagining ---

DN: Yup, take up a piece of paper, right, there’ll be quiz afterwards, I’m a Law Professor. [inaudible words] pop quiz. All right step number one, when you’re confronted by somebody who’s really angry or emotional, and it could be positive emotions too, but let’s just stay with the difficult stuff. The first thing you have to do is to ignore the words. The words have no meaning for the next 90 seconds. If you pay attention to the words you are going to get triggered and you’re gonna get emotional and you’re of no use to anybody, so ignore the words. Step number two, guess at the emotions that the speaker is having in the moment and typically it’s gonna be anger, anxiety, fear, frustration, could be sadness or grief, but there’ll be very clear emotions that are coming up with the speaker. Just guess what they are. And the third step, and this is the part that’s really counterintuitive for people, is that you’re going to reflect back the speaker’s emotional experience using a simple “YOU” statement. So for example I would say, “Natalie, you’re really frustrated right now” or “You’re really angry” or “You don’t feel like you’re being listened to, you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly” or “You have a lot of anxiety or fear or maybe you’re sad or grief stricken.” I would simply use YOU statements and label the emotions as they come up with my speaker until four things happen, and these are all unconscious on the speaker’s part. The first is a nod of the head, a second is some kind of verbal response saying “yeah” or “exactly”. The third is, you’re going to see a dropping of the shoulders. And the fourth thing you’re gonna see is a sigh, a deep sigh of release. And when those four things happen, that tells you that the emotional centers of the brain have started to quiet down, the prefrontal cortex is coming back online and now you can engage them in a conversation about how to solve the problem. But until you get a person calmed down, you cannot solve any problem. You can’t solve emotional problems with logic, it’s impossible, physiologically, biologically impossible. And that’s something that is very hard for people to grasp because we’re so used to being, having to be rational and we’re not, at all rational, ever, hardly.

NL: So is it, is it a case of letting them get it out, and then, and then you start with these statements so ---

DN: No, no I start it immediately. So as soon as I see an emotion I’ll interrupt and I’ll say you’re really frustrated. Now here’s the beauty of it, as long as I’m using YOU statements and not I statements, I can interrupt as often as I want and the speaker never feels like I’m being rude or inconsiderate or presumptuous or impertinent. As long as I’m using YOU statements and simply reflecting back the emotion, what I’m literally doing is lending my prefrontal cortex to the speaker to allow the speaker to process his or her emotional experience. And there’s, and you’re not interrupting. I mean you are interrupting but you’re not interrupting in a way that’s perceived as being a violation of our normal conversational rules.

NL: Right. So does it is it like, I mean I know that it’s, like, physiologically what’s happening when you follow these steps, but is it also like a validation for the person?

DN: That’s exactly right. That’s the net effect is that the speaker feels deeply, deeply validated and so often when I’m teaching this technique and I’m using it on people, people will say, “That is the first time anybody has really listened to me and really understood me.”

NL: Hmmmm

DN: I mean it’s really powerful.

NL: Yeah.

DN: Because there is a very deep validation. We all have a deep need and desire to be heard and listened to. But the problem is that we’ve all been taught to listen to words and listening to words is important and being able to paraphrase on core message are important reflection skills. But to get to the really deep stuff when people are really upset we have to go for the emotions and that, that’s what’s really new about all this work.

NL: Right. And I can imagine that if you’re in a situation where someone’s yelling at you and they’re really angry, you know, also we go into a, you know, we’re going to shut down as well. Is there something that the person who’s actually going through the steps or taking the other person through the steps, something they can do so that they’re not emotionally reacting.

DN : Ignore the words.

NL: Right.

DN: Completely ignore the words and just pay attention to the emotions. And two things happen when you do that as a listener. Number one, since you’re not, since you’re ignoring the words no matter how provocative they are, you’re not getting triggered yourself. And number two, your ego disappears and you feel completely egoless for the time that you’re reflecting back. And when you’re in that place of egolessness you have enormous power because you feel completely in control and completely safe, and this has been proven time and time and time again in extremely violent prisons and elsewhere. I’ve had, I mean invariably when I teach  graduate schools, I’ll have some student who just cannot get her mind or his mind around what this is and challenges me and oftentimes with the millennials I get an ad hominem attack telling me I’m crazy and who the hell do I think I am, and I immediately turn and I deescalate them right there and show the whole class how it’s done in the moment. And they’re always, the class is always astounded at the results that we get because the whole thing is over within 30 seconds.

NL: Right. And so how does this translate if we, you know, looking at a medium like social media?

DN: Same thing. Not of course, never quite as effective, but I’ve used it quite effectively on my YouTube channel where I get snarky comments and I have to make a decision, do I want to keep the comment or take it off but oftentimes what I’ll do is just label what I think the emotions are behind the snarky or mean or rude or disrespectful comment and that’s all I’ll do. I’ll just say “You’re really angry, you’re really frustrated, you’re confused, you feel anxious,” whatever it might be, and I have never had anybody reply back after that. It works.

NL: So can you share some stories or experiences that you’ve had where you’ve seen that this work has really been working in the prison system.

DN: Yeah, I have a lot of stories, but my favorite one was early on on the prison project, when we were training our first 15 women in what was then the largest, most violent women’s prison in the world. We walked into the training room, which was a dingy conference room, and one of our students was sitting in the chair and she was quietly sobbing, and so my partner and colleague, Laurel Kaufer, and I walked up to her, and Laurel asked her what was going on and she said “I’ve been in prison for more than ten years. When I left prison my son was four years six years old, whatever it was and he’s in the care of my sister who’s raising him and I’ve written him every week for the whole time I’ve been in prison and I never got a response from him. Last week I decided to write a letter using the skills that you guys have been teaching me, and today I got my very first letter from him and he’s coming to visit me in two weeks.”

NL: Wow.

DN: Yeah. I hear that story over and over and over again or variations on it. It’s amazing.

NL: Right. And..

DN: The thing that’s really funny is, again teaching in my graduate class at Pepperdine, I always tell my young female students, I say, be very careful with these tools when you go out and work with them because guys will think that you’re really interested in them. And sure enough, every time we come back and say what happened, because I always tell people go out and practice this on a Starbucks barista before you do anything else and invariably, they come back and the story is that maybe there was a guy in line, he dropped a bunch of papers on the floor and the student turns around and helps him pick up the paper and said, “Oh I mean you must be really frustrated and embarrassed and then the story invariably is and then he started hitting on me.”

NL: Yeah.

DN: It’s pretty powerful.

NL: And, well I can imagine that it is, because you know, and that’s the thing, I think all of us as part of our frustration is that we want to be heard, and especially when we have a platform like, you know, social media and there seems to be such a division at the moment and I understand, too. Like I’ll have, I remember around election time, I put something up about that, what’s her name, you know, ah Clinton, had said but it was because it was something about women and the tirade that came and I was like whoa. I didn’t respond to any of it, but it was just like wow, it’s interesting how divided we are.

DN: So we see on social media a lot of shouting.

NL: Yeah.

DN: And that shouting is really a signal saying I’m not being listened to. I’m not being heard. So if you can imagine being on a river and there are rapids, I mean, what do you have to do to be heard across the river, you have to shout because you can’t be heard and so we what we do, we raise our voices when we don’t think we’re being listened to. And that’s why arguments escalate into shouting matches and why we see shouting matches on social media, because people are not being heard, they’re not being listened to. So using these skills, like I call it “listening people into existence.” For the first time their very existence as a human being is, to use the word you used, validated, and it’s powerful how it de-escalates and calms people down immediately.

NL: Yeah, and I’m assuming that, like, with the inmates that you’ve been working with, I mean these skills are helping them not just while they’re in jail but outside as well.

DN: We have over 500 inmates who have been trained in our skills who have been released on parole and so far as we know, there have been no reports of recidivism no reoffending.

NL: Right. That’s just incredible. It’s so amazing to do that, and the work that you’ve been doing here is great. So with the book that’s coming out,  who’s the book applicable to?

DN: The book is applicable to anybody on the planet who wants to learn how to calm an angry adult or an angry child. This works great on two-year-olds or an elderly person, anybody who’s upset. The skill set works. And the book really goes to the Ark of Life starting with small children and ending up with politically polarized conversations and shows how to use these skills in 100’s of different circumstances and situations.

NL: Yeah.

DN: And I’ve got a benefactor, and so we’re able to buy the book if people are willing to pay $7 for shipping, we’ll buy the book and ship it to you for free and all you got to do is say “I want the book.”

NL: Great. Where can we send them to do that?

DN: D-O-U-G-N-O-L-L .com or Either one will go, and there will be a banner on the home page, just click on the banner and you’ll go from there.

NL: Right. Doug, thank you for joining us today, it’s been, you know, like I said, at the moment it just seems to be a very important skill for us to be able to learn, you know, and I think even if we’re in a conversation or a situation where we don’t necessarily agree with what the other person has to say, I think that if we can diffuse the emotion of the situation, then we can enter into a, you know, an intelligent conversation, you know.

DN: Exactly.

NL: Yeah.

DN: The whole idea is to validate people to listen before you speak. And that means being mature and it means being a grownup. It’s a little hard for people but if you’re really dealing with somebody who’s stubborn and ornery and rude and inconsiderate, this would be a good fallback position to try.

NL: Yeah. And it’s a great way for you to find out where people are coming like, why do they feel or think the way that they do, because all I can do is really educate you and expand your opinion as well.

DN: Exactly correct.

NL: Yeah. Thank you, Doug, for joining me today. You’re an absolute pleasure. Now guys we have a banner either to the side or we have a link underneath the video so you can go directly through Doug’s website and get your hands on that really important book, especially if you have a lot of, you know, angst and frustration around you, it’d be great book to have. Make sure that you share this video by clicking the Facebook and the Twitter share buttons on this page. And after the show is over if you want to click that link underneath the video, you can take my 30-second quiz to figure out what’s holding you back from success. So until next time, remember to live large, choose courageously and love without limits. We’ll see you soon.

How to Turn Anger into Peace in 90 Seconds



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