How to stay calm and collected during tough conversations

At one level or one other, we’ve all misplaced our cool at work. Maybe you pulled an all-nighter to end a mission, solely to really feel distressed when it was criticized by a shopper. Or possibly a coworker failed to pull their weight and dumped their work on you on the final minute. These on a regular basis office aggravations could make your blood boil.

However tough conversations have a tendency to be essentially the most tense of all. You understand them properly. These are the sorts of talks that require you to ship unhealthy information or detrimental suggestions, make a requirement corresponding to asking for a increase or extra duty, apologize for a mistake, or in any other case have a dialog that you simply dread.

After we anticipate or have tough conversations, our feelings are sometimes triggered. The mere considered battle and confrontation could trigger you anxiousness, particularly in case you are somebody who considers themselves to be a kind-hearted peace-keeper. Even in the event you’re pissed off with the state of affairs, it’s possible you’ll worry upsetting your boss or disappointing your group, for instance.


Troublesome conversations intensify our emotionality as a result of our minds understand them as a risk. To the primal components of our emotional mind, the fear of being disliked or shedding standing is akin to being ousted from the group and causes actual ache. The truth is, science exhibits the mind makes no distinction between social exclusion and bodily ache, which is why rejection—or the anticipation of it—hurts a lot.

During a tough dialog, it’s possible you’ll discover your coronary heart begins racing and your respiration picks up. When your fight-or-flight response takes maintain, it’s all of the extra doubtless you’ll get upset. Leaders and professionals who determine as delicate strivers—which I outline as excessive achievers who’re additionally extremely delicate—are much more doubtless to have extra intense, complicated emotional responses during tough conversations due to their genetic wiring. It’s not unusual for my teaching shoppers to say they’ve cried during a gathering or gone down an emotional spiral after receiving an unanticipated ask from their boss. These identical shoppers inform me that they need they might get a greater grip on their responses and present up with better calm, command, and govt presence.

To make clear, turning into emotional during a tough dialog is a traditional stress response. However a vital a part of emotional intelligence is emotion regulation, or the talent of having the ability to modify the way you internally modulate and externally specific your feelings in a means that’s rooted in integrity and makes you are feeling proud. With out this talent, you’re not in a position to articulate your self properly within the second or put your finest foot ahead.

Right here’s how to preserve the flood of feelings at bay during tough conversations so you possibly can present up as your finest self.

Strategize your strategy

Troublesome conversations are inherently unsure (“Will she snigger at my request?” “What if I offend them?”). Reduce the paradox (and the emotionality that accompanies it) by outlining key factors you’d like to hit during the dialog. Make these high-level, headline-like markers that may information you in the event you lose your prepare of thought. Don’t fall into the perfectionist entice of making an in depth script to recite verbatim. Not solely does this squeeze out authenticity, nevertheless it additionally will go away you extra burdened if the dialog doesn’t go as deliberate.

Likewise, decide what you need to get out of the dialog. Your aim ought to be lifelike and achievable. Planning to “win” is a shedding battle. Concentrate on an goal that’s inside your management, corresponding to getting your level throughout or stating your level concisely.


Rally your resilience

Each time I’ve a shopper battling feelings forward of a tough dialog, I ask them to inform me concerning the three hardest issues they’ve overcome. They don’t want to be instantly associated to the state of affairs at hand. Merely reminding your self you can rise above challenges offers you the arrogance to be better than your fears and apprehensions.

Optimistic visualization may also be efficient. Research shows that the thoughts can’t distinguish between creativeness and actuality. If you think about your self showing cool and collected during a tough dialog, it triggers the identical cascade of neurochemicals, no matter whether or not you might be occupied with the previous, current, or future. Image your self within the warmth of confrontation. How do you look, really feel, and sound when you find yourself at your finest?

Method the dialog as a collaboration

Let’s say you want to communicate together with your direct report a couple of main mistake they made. Your first impulse could also be to angrily fling blame-based accusations corresponding to “How may you let this occur?” However your intense feelings may trigger your report to retreat or get defensive, eliminating the chance to problem-solve.

Diffuse the emotional cost by listening first. Ask open-ended questions corresponding to:

  • What led up to this?
  • What have you ever tried to resolve the state of affairs to this point?
  • What’s your motion plan?

Listening and asking questions offers you the possibility to collect extra info whereas additionally offering room for you to pause, breathe, and accumulate your self so you possibly can reply diplomatically.

Strive a mantra

Studies show that repeating a single phrase or phrase silently to your self can quiet your thoughts. In different phrases, making a mantra may be helpful to calm the inner judgments that lead to sturdy feelings during tough conversations. A lot of my shoppers devise brief, anchoring phrases corresponding to:

  • Stay impartial.
  • This may go.
  • I can deal with feeling uncomfortable.
  • All I can do is my finest.
  • I’m accountable for how I really feel.

Watch out for emotional contagion

People naturally synchronize with the feelings of others round them. Delicate strivers, particularly, have more active mirror neurons, which make them more proficient at empathizing, but additionally extra doubtless to soak up negativity, notably during tense conditions.

To keep away from taking in your counterpart’s emotions during a tough dialog, think about your self surrounded by a transparent bubble that shields you from their reactions. Claire Wasserman, founding father of Women Get Paid, as soon as shared with me that she envisions portray her physique in gold armor earlier than coming into a tough negotiation.

Lastly, my shoppers discover it useful to separate content material from supply. Pay particular consideration to the precise phrases popping out of somebody’s mouth and not their tone or your interpretation of what’s been mentioned. Stay grounded in objectivity, and you possibly can carry your finest to the desk.

Melody Wilding, LMSW, is an executive coach and the creator of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.