If you remember something of your school physics classes you’ll know that friction generates heat. This applies to material objects, but, what you were probably not told is that it also happens in relationships between people.

Mostly, we rub along pretty well, but when someone rubs us up the wrong way (or we, them), things can quickly begin to heat up. A side-effect of this is that it causes stress, and that distorts our judgement. It can create what is referred to in french as a ‘dialogue of the deaf’, where neither person can hear the other.

When there is tension in a relationships that is causing friction, it is sensible to take steps to reduce the chafing by slowing down the action, or adding a little social lubricant. Unfortunately, the heat caused by friction often means that we do the opposite; we speed up and amplify our efforts by becoming louder and more insistent.

While some friction in relationships can be good – for example it can generate sparks of creativity – mostly it is a hindrance. The heat it generates causes wear, distorts our thinking and degrades the quality of interactions.

Remedies are often counter-intuitive. In this case, when two people are locked in dispute or the conversation is beginning to grind to a halt, the first step should be to reduce friction by decreasing pressure. Physics has some answers here too; recommended ways to minimise friction include smoothing, polishing, lubricating and even redesigning how the parts interact.