• Paul Radkowski

Conflict Code Word

It's very common for people, especially when stressed, to default into this fight-flight dynamic. One way to de-escalate this is to have you and your partner/child etc. agree to a helpful strategy called the ‘Code Word’.

This strategy is a simple conversation that occurs when both of you are calm. It is a technique that will help you navigate disagreements before an escalation that results in the fight-flight pattern. It is essentially an agreement to help de-escalate things between you and your partner before it gets too heated. It empowers both of you to take immediate action if one or both of you starts to notice an uncomfortable escalation of feelings like anger or frustration, which can spiral out of control and lead to such things as shouting, swearing and storming off in frustration. You can intervene so that the storm is avoided and the issue between you can be resolved.

Here are the rules:

Step 1) Choose a code word (or phrase) that both of you agree on. It’s especially helpful if you both find it funny (e.g., “purple monkey”).


Step 2) You agree ahead of time that regardless of who takes the initiative to use the code word, you will both immediately take an automatic pause of the conflict; this means no more talking about the topic for a certain amount of time, and that length of time should be at least 20-30 minutes. (Brain research shows that it takes us at least 20 minutes to calm down after we’ve felt emotionally hijacked). You can agree to a period that is longer than 20 minutes, but no less. I recommend no going longer than a couple of hours if possible. The goal is to re-establish emotional safety and to reconnect to explore a solution.


During this break, I suggest each of you (in your own respective place) take some deep breaths, go for a brisk walk and write out what you want to communicate to your partner using “I” language e.g. “I feel a bit overwhelmed and shut down when someone is speaking to me loudly”. If you find one or both of you are escalating again in terms of volume etc, initiate the code word again. Take some time and space to cool down and approach the subject when calmer. Give it a try, this has helped create a lot more peace between people and saved a lot of relationships.