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Tips for Tempering Others' Emotions during Critical Conversations

Emotions can take over a critical conversation, causing it to quickly lose its focus. How can you refocus a critical conversation that’s being overshadowed by strong emotions? When the other party or parties in the conversation are so upset or emotional that they can’t focus on tasks, the conversation may come to a screeching halt, or worse, turn into a complete wreck.

First, don’t get caught up in the emotions — even if you completely agree or disagree with the agreement — or try to force decisions.

Sometimes progress on finding solutions or even discovering the problem can’t happen until the emotion is resolved or at least dealt with. There is tremendous value in dealing with the emotions because it can lead to progress.

Second, call a spade a spade. Name the feeling, emotion, or behavior you’re experiencing or sensing in the room. By simply saying, “I sense there is tension in the room,” you open the possibility of others wanting to resolve that tension or even recognizing its presence.

After you voice the feeling, you or the facilitator can help the team agree on ways to address the emotional situation first and then get back to the purpose of the meeting. This step often looks like a critical conversation within a critical conversation.

Recommend to the group that it examine and acknowledge the feelings and opinions of others, and then make a decision about whether the meeting or discussion can continue.

Finally, if you’re in a large group conversation, ask that everyone support others who may be emotional. Some people are better at dealing with the emotions of highly charged situations, and some people need to cry it out.

If you’re in a one-on-one conversation, simply state (and mean) that you understand or at least recognize what the other person may be feeling.

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