Most of us feel some sort of stress or anxiety knowing we have to face a difficult conversation in the workplace. Unfortunately, when controlling emotion matters the most, we tend perform at our worst during crucial conversations.
No matter the outcome, the best way to manage a conversation is by staying in control of the emotional energy. There is some science behind why we react the way we do in a tense conversation. A disagreement can feel like a threat, like you are giving up something - whether that’s your point of view or the way you do something.
As with anything to do with humans, our bodies and minds are not good at differentiating between the threat of “loosing” a tense conversation or being chased by a lion. We start displaying those familiar verbal and physical cues like a raising heartbeat, change in tone and language, unintentional facial expressions and posture.
Below are some simple tips and advice for mastering the physical response and managing your emotions during a difficult conversation.
Prepare for the conversation
This starts with understanding what the real problem actually is. Ask yourself “What outcome do I really want from this conversation?”. Clearly identifying your own personal motives will give you (and your message) clarity and focus.
Be direct and specific
Forget the ‘compliment sandwich’ technique – praise, criticism and praise - and get straight to the point. Approach a difficult conversation with honesty, while also displaying some empathy to the feelings of the other party.
Focus and breathe
Keeping your cool is key. Anyone who has completed mindfulness training will recognise the techniques to focus on breathing and your body. Inhale and exhale - focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation through your nostrils – or, place your feet firmly on the ground and concentrate on what the floor feels like. It’s about focussing your attention on the present rather than the outcome (of the conversation).
Positive affirmations or mantras can release your body from anxiety and negativity. Repeat over and over (in your mind) to recheck your reality. “This will pass” or “This isn’t about me” are popular prompts.
Take a pause
Don’t be afraid to pause the conversation to give yourself time to get your thoughts and emotions in check. This could be as simple as suggesting you move the conversation to another room (or another time), grab a glass of water or even take a bathroom break.
Listen and be patient
Sometimes, having a difficult conversation means fully understanding the position of the other person before jumping in with solutions. Ask lots of questions, even if they are directed at moving the conversation closer to your point of view. Silence is a good indicator of progress; it means that the other person is processing the information you have provided.
Next time you are facing a difficult conversation in the workplace, keep these tips in mind and see if they improve the outcome.
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The Decipher Team
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