How often do you find yourself becoming emotional during a difficult conversation with a colleague, a peer, your boss or indeed a family member or friend? How often do you find yourself shying away from having important, yet difficult conversations, backing away from them, saying nothing and kicking yourself for giving in too easily? How has your ability to be honest and open at work been impacted by your fear of becoming emotional during a conversation and so you've masked how you're feeling, said nothing, creating an anxiety and blockage which remains like a furball in your throat?
If some or all of that feels familiar to you, I thought it may be useful to share some tips about how to manage your emotions when you are about to leap into a challenging conversation:-
1. Recognise your emotions: The first step in managing your emotions in difficult conversations is to recognise them. Self awareness is key. Before embarking on the conversation, take a moment to assess your emotions, being truly honest with yourself and identify what you are feeling. Common emotions in difficult conversations include anger, frustration, and fear. Of course your presenting emotion may be covering up what you are really feeling. For example, you may be feeling angry about something, underlying which is a deep innate fear, inherent in your makeup which hasn't been looked at, yet!
2. Take a deep breath: Once you have identified your emotions, take a deep breath and try to calm yourself down. Notice if your 'fight, flight, freeze' response may already have been triggered, in which case taking a conscious moment to breathe will begin to calm your sympathetic nervous system, thus helping you to think more clearly and respond in a more productive way.
3. Consciously practice active listening: When having a difficult conversation, it is important to practice active listening. This means consciously listening to the other person's perspective, without interrupting or getting defensive. Agreeing internally to listen without judgement whilst the other person is talking to truly understand what they're saying. This doesn't mean you have to agree with them, it just means you are agreeing to hear and understand what they have to say.
4. Use "I" statements: When expressing your own perspective, use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. For example, instead of saying "you are wrong," say "I disagree with your perspective." This takes some of the 'heat' out of the statement and makes it about how you are feeling, rather than a judgement about the other person.
5. Take a break if needed: If the conversation becomes too intense, it is okay to take a break. Let the other person know that you need some time to process your emotions and come back to the conversation when you are ready. This could be a few minutes to grab a coffee or a natural break, or it could be a day or two ... important however to always make sure you come back to the conversation, don't leave things hanging.
6. Practice empathy: Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and understand where they are coming from. This will help you to approach the conversation with more compassion and understanding. Typically when we are felt 'heard', or 'seen', we are more likely to be able to compromise, or see another persons point of view.
7. Focus on finding a solution: Once we have explored both sides of the conversation, really trying to understand each others perspective, without judgement or personal criticism, instead of getting caught up in the emotions of the conversation, focus on finding a solution. Brainstorm together and try to come up with a mutually beneficial solution. If this isn't possible, then try to move to a place where it feels fractionally 'better' for both parties. Steer away from 'I win, you lose' or 'I lose, you win' type compromises, head towards 'win/win' however small that may be.
8. Follow up: After the conversation, follow up with the other person to make sure that both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This will help to ensure that the conversation was productive and that both parties feel heard and understood. This ultimately will maintain the relationship factor which is hugely important, irrespective of the outcome.
This list is not exhaustive and you may have found some other strategies which work for you. In which case please, do share in the comments box below so that others may benefit from your experience.
If this feels difficult, that's because it is! DM me or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if this feels something you'd like some support with.
I hope this is useful