Learn to Zoop! (argument de-escalation)

Learn to Zoop! (argument de-escalation)

Do you catch yourself getting into arguments frequently? Are you tired of getting all fired up and angry? Are you willing to do a little bit of work to keep a calm household? Check this out:

Learn to “zoop”*!

When two people get into an argument, it’s rarely an immediate explosion. Most arguments start with:

  1. a statement or question,
  2. then a snippy response (or, rather, what sounds like snippiness to the other person, but was not intended to be),
  3. then anger at that perceived snippiness,
  4. then a response to that anger,
  5. and then the argument really starts.

Those first few volleys invove both people getting upset at the method of conversation, and not just at what the conversation started about.

It’s really important to break that cycle after steps 2, 3, or 4. Once you hit step 5, a real argument, it’s tough for anyone to break away! We want to stop the miscommunication BEFORE it turns into a full blown fight.

So “zooping” is just turning around and leaving as a method of de-escalation. You can literally leave, or you can “leave” the argument and switch to a different kind of communication.

Literally leaving should generally be pre-negotiated. Most people feel super yucky if you just walk away while they’re trying to talk to you. I’d advise setting up a chat with your usual argument-buddy (partner, best friend, family member, etc), and making a rule that either of you is allowed to walk away if you feel like a conversation is turning into an argument. You will need to find another way to later discuss whatever it is that you were talking about, sure, but one way to get out of the building argument is to zoop away. Take a walk, switch rooms to drink a glass of water, go play a few levels of Dr. Mario, whatever. Come back to the conversation later, when you and your buddy aren’t on the verge of yelling.

Or, don’t come back to the conversation. Sometimes we just argue about nothing at all, and it isn’t worth coming back! In that case, the zoop is the end of it! That is OK. You are 100% allowed to say “gosh, we weren’t really arguing about anything productive, were we? Let’s drop this one.” It takes some pride-wrangling, to admit that your emotions got the better of you, but once you are able to admit that, you get internal permission to have SO MANY fewer arguments!

You can also leave the argument in a non-literal sense. This ALSO takes some pre-negotiating. To leave an argument without leaving the room, you and your buddy both have to buy in to this: either of you is allowed to ask for a verbal de-escalation without assigning blame.

Either of you can say “hey, this looks like it’s turning into an argument. Can we take a step back and reassess the goal of this conversation?”

Because that’s what you want to do. You want to make sure you both have the same goal for the conversation.

That’s often one cause for arguments! One person wants to figure out what’s for dinner, and the other person is trying to figure out whose fault it is that dinner wasn’t already cooked. One person wants to make the Christmas holiday plans, and the other person wants to express how upset they are with the options presented.

So when two people catch themselves arguing, one way to head that off is for either of them to say, “hey, this doesn’t seem productive. Can we come at this from a different angle?”

That definitely takes some self-awareness, and requires that both people agree in advance that either of them is allowed to restructure the conversation. No “well, you’re the one that was rude,” none of that “you started it,” not even a “well, I was just trying to —-.” You have to leave that behind, if you’re trying to move an argument back to productive-ville. Or, just like the above, you might come to realize that the argument wasn’t worth having at all, and verbally stepping back ends it!

One of the downsides to zooping is that it does leave you with a bunch of adrenaline that you don’t know how to use. An argument feels like stepping onto a fast moving vehicle, and de-escalating can feel like you have a whole lot of kinetic energy with no outlet. Heck, sometimes we start arguments because we need to bleed off tension or energy. So what do you do with that?

Well, don’t finish the conversation while you’re feeling tense or upset, that’s for sure! Go for a run. Play a video game where you’re allowed to be angry (don’t curse at people on your headset though, please). Do something that takes a lot of concentration. Take a cold shower. Anything that takes away that “ahhhhh I want to start trouble!” feeling.

If you feel like you can’t leave well enough alone until you get to the bottom of your conversation, well, tread lightly. I know some folks who don’t feel at peace until they fix the problem. Just be careful. Recognize that you, or both of you are on edge, and that it could get heated again quickly.

Honestly, try giving your usual argument buddies this article. Whenever you feel something resembling an argument coming on, any of you can say “zoop!” and walk away. Later, you can try again to talk about what you really want to talk about.


*Obviously, zoop is a word I made up. I use it with one of my clients, when I remind her that she’s allowed to simply walk away from any argument. We use a visual model of hands on top of hands on top of hands to illustrate a building argument; once the hands get up to a certain height, everyone is upset and there are negative consequences. For this client, we practice zooping by taking away one of those climbing hands down near the bottom of the stack, saying “zzzzzoop!”, and swooping one of the hands off to the side before the stack gets any higher. This client zoops by taking a walk to the library, and spending a few hours there.

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