What to say when you’re in a Hot Spot

Do you ever have times when you don’t know what to say? Listen in while I talk a little with a student whose mouth causes trouble.

My mouth got me in trouble last week. Our whole class got in a food fight. The principal called me in to ask me what happened. I couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t sound as if I was trying to get some of the kids in trouble so I yelled at him! That got me two days in study hall after school.

Most of the time when you talk it’s okay to just open your mouth and let the words fall out. You don’t have to stop and think which word to use or how to say something. But in a HOT-SPOT, your mouth can get you in big trouble.

What do you mean by a HOT-SPOT?

A HOT-SPOT is what I call those times when you or the person you are talking to is upset. Either of you may be mad, sad, worried, hurt, scared or some other strong feeling. People in hot-spots don’t think straight. The more upset people are, the more likely they’ll say the wrong things.

Then what should I do in a hot-spot?

If you want to be a smart talker, you learn to talk COOL. Not cool as in “alll riiight” but cool as in “just the facts.” Cool words take away some hot-spot heat by talking about facts in a calming way. Cool words don’t insult the other person and make that person feel trapped.

Here are some hot words and some cool words you could use instead. Think about how a person hearing each might feel.

Hot Words
You’re lying!
You’re so stupid!
I hate that teacher!
Shut up!
That #$%& teacher hates me!
Don’t blame me!
So I didn’t do my homework! I don’t care.
Cool Words
I didn’t see it that way.
Let’s try again.
I’ve got a problem.
Can I tell you my idea?
She doesn’t return work.
I was at my desk.
Is it ok if I turn my work in tomorrow?
The cool words sound nicer, but I don’t think I’d be likely to say them if I was real upset.

Using cool words gets easier with practice. Here’s what you do in a hot-spot: STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. When you find people are getting upset, STOP talking. Calm yourself by taking three deep breaths very slowly. LOOK at the other person(s) to figure out what they’re feeling. The look on their face will tell you the most. Tune in to them and LISTEN to what they’re saying. Are their words cool or hot? The hotter their words or actions are, the cooler yours need to be.

Could I have used that when a substitute teacher started crying when we wouldn’t clean up a mess in the science room? Next day we all had detention.

Sure. You should have first STOPPED to size up the situation. Next, you should have LOOKED at her. What was she doing and what do you think she was feeling?

She sat down at her desk and put her head in her hands. I guess she was feeling pretty bad.

From LISTENING to her, why do you think she was feeling that way?

I guess she felt bad because she couldn’t get us to clean up the mess.

That sounds right. If you had spoken up and said, “Gee, we’re sorry Ms. X” and then said, “C’mon, everybody. Let’s clean this mess up before the bell rings,” I bet she would have stopped crying and not reported the class. By saying “sorry” you would have let her know that someone knew she was feeling really bad. By starting to clean up the mess, you’d have sent a cool message to the rest of the class that cleaning up was a smart thing to do. Smart talking also means keeping hot-spots from getting started. You’d be surprised how often people will follow you, even if you aren’t a usual class leader.

If I were one of the class leaders I know I would have been more likely to yell, “Okay, you %@&&$’s—Pick this mess up!”

If you want to become a smart talker, you’ll get in the habit of not using hot words even for good causes. Save hot words for times when you are by yourself or with a friend who understands you are just blowing off steam about somebody else. Hot words almost always get you in trouble.

My best friend and I yell mean stuff at each other all the time. And we get along okay.

You can call your best friend most anything when the two of you trade insults. But don’t call the new kid at school that. And DON’T, above all, say that to a kid who’s likely to start a fight.

Everybody knows not to do that.

Everyone may know not to do that, but do you always remember not to do it? A person who uses cool words in hot spots is usually the person who controls what happens next. Cool words put power in YOUR mouth. Try it and see.

by Mary Bowman-Kruhm