Ten Tips for Managing Your Emotions during a Critical Conversation

Critical conversations can help make decisions stick, work relationships grow, and teams operate better. Here are ten tips for handling your emotions during critical conversations, especially when someone is pushing your buttons.

Take a break from the critical conversation

Taking a break gives you time to collect your thoughts and physically slow down the conversation until you feel confident that your responses will be professional and productive. Often as little as five minutes can allow you time to focus on the content of the discussion and not take comments personally or say something that you’ll later regret.

If taking a break isn’t feasible, focus on your breathing and pause for five seconds to silence the conversation for a bit and relax your body.

Take a quick walk before a critical conversation

The benefits of getting out and exercising before a critical conversation can’t be overstated. A short walk can provide a renewed perspective, perhaps even optimism about the conversation, and can also provide a chance for you to crystalize everything that you want to say, away from the distractions of the office.

Even taking a walk to the break room to get a drink can help calm your nerves. You may even consider asking the other participants in the conversation to walk with you.

Express your emotions during critical conversations

Expressing emotions during a critical conversation while maintaining professionalism is hard. If someone is raising her voice, let her know how you feel with “I feel” or “I am” statements, rather than “you are” statements.

If the behavior doesn’t stop or change, explain how you feel and a possible solution to the problem. If the other party agrees, the conversation can continue and you’ve helped lower the emotions by expressing your position in a calm and controlled voice.

Ask for support during critical conversations

If the conversation is going downhill and you’re about to lose your cool, ask for outside help from somebody in human resources, a professional mediator, your manager, or even a peer.

Another great source for help is the support of the group itself. If someone else is losing his cool and you’re about ready to do the same, first state the facts and then ask whether the rest of the group agrees. Doing so stops the behavior temporarily, gives you time to regain your composure, and takes you off the hook of having to control the conversation by yourself.

State the obvious to curb the emotion of a critical conversation

Stating the obvious very clearly is sometimes the only way to help curb your own emotions and get through to an individual who isn’t responding to any other method of conflict resolution during a conversation. State the obvious and ask what the other individual is hoping to accomplish with his behavior.

If it’s the first time an individual has lost her cool and you’re in a group setting during the conversation, wait for a break to state the obvious and ask what the individual hopes to accomplish with her behavior in an offline discussion.

Find the positive in a critical conversation

You don’t need to be a cheerleader, but there's tremendous power in thinking positively. When you look at the individual who’s making you lose your cool, she’s obviously behaving the way she is for a reason. If you’re positive and try to find out what that reason is, you may find that you’re able to keep your emotions in check.

Need a little help channeling your inner cheerleader? Try phrases like “Let’s see what’s possible” or “It may be better if . . .” or “Let’s see what’s possible for us to do.”

Keep some perspective during a critical conversation

If you are getting caught up in the moment, it can be helpful to take a step back and keep the problem in perspective. First, make sure you are putting the real problem ahead of personal style, politics, and individual interests.

Second, visualize the bigger picture and goal. If you visualize how life and work will be better once the conversation is successful and behaviors change, it is easier to remember and focus on why the conversation started in the first place.

Know when to walk away from a critical conversation

When your own emotions are ready to boil over, sometimes it’s best to walk away from the situation, especially if it seems like there are no agreements to be made. But before you do, offer a solution even if the solution doesn’t involve you. Let the other party know that you’ve proposed a number of ways to come to agreement over how to work together/get better results, and that she is free to work with your supervisor, human resources, or another trusted leader in the organization to arrive at a solution.

Don't watch the clock during a critical conversation

When people are under time constraints, stress and emotional outbreaks are a natural outcome. One way to bring those emotions back down is to reset your expectations and slow down the conversation. Although you may be stressed about the conversation's speed, realize that some behaviors take time to change, especially if the bad behaviors have been reinforced for years.

As long as the conversation is moving, even if it isn’t as fast as you may hope, taking away the clock and deadline can bring everyone’s emotions down a notch and keep the movement going forward.

Don't get caught up in the critical conversation

If the conversation is going south, recognize that progress on decisions and changes in behavior will not happen until the immediate emotional situation is directly dealt with.

Name the feeling you think is happening and then ask if the other individual is willing to address the emotional situation first and then get back to the main message in the conversation. Letting the other individual lead the conversation is another way of examining what is happening.

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