How To Control Your Emotions During A Difficult Conversation


Having tough, high-stakes conversations is challenging for anyone. However, keeping emotions in check is critical to finding resolutions. This article provides strategies for maintaining composure when discussions get heated.

Facts About Emotions and Conversations

Before delving into techniques, understand some vital context:

Emotional HijackingWhen strong feelings override logic, it produces productive discussion and problem-solving.
Physiological ResponseAnger or fear triggers fight-or-flight mode, releasing stress hormones that diminish thinking abilities.
Gender DifferencesOn average, women are more emotionally expressive in conversations, while men tend to withhold feelings more.
Benefits of ControlStaying calm allows total listening, creative solutions, and maintaining relationships for future discussions.

As we’ll see, acknowledging emotional triggers and using simple techniques can help circumvent hormonal responses to keep conversations on track.

Step 1 – Be Self-Aware of Your Triggers

The first step is understanding what specifically angers, frustrates, or triggers anxiety for you in challenging discussions. Common triggers include:

  • Being accused or criticized
  • Lack of control in situations
  • Unresolved past conflicts resurfacing
  • Challenges to strongly held beliefs
  • Concerns about negative outcomes

Knowing your hot buttons beforehand prepares you to override gut reactions when they emerge consciously.

Step 2 – Practice Deep Breathing

Taking deep breaths sends a relaxation message to the amygdala, calming physiological stress responses. Inhale slowly for 5 seconds, hold for 3, and exhale slowly for 5. Repeat until you feel centered again. Try it discretely if things start to escalate.

Step 3 – Remind Yourself of the End Goal

Define what you want from the conversation – a resolution, better understanding, compromise? Keeping the objective in mind refocuses energy on progress versus reaction. Say internally, “How can I work towards the goal?”

Step 4 – Listen Actively

Rather than interrupting to rebut, consciously focus on the other side by making eye contact, nodding, and asking thoughtful questions. Redirect questions back to truly understand perspectives instead of immediately defending your own.

Step 5 – Take Brief Breaks If Needed

If emotions flare, it’s okay to acknowledge feeling upset and request a 10-minute break to relax alone. This allows you to collect yourself versus bailing entirely or escalating further in frustration. Revisit the discussion refreshed.

Step 6 – Choose Words Wisely

Avoid absolutist language like “never” and “always” that inflame disagreement. Express how you “feel” rather than attacking the other person with “you” statements. This decreases defensiveness so standard solutions can form.

Step 7 – Stay Seated and At-Level

Avoid physical dominance behaviors like aggressive gesturing, looming over others, eye-rolling, or huffing that subliminally increase tensions. Maintain a seated, at-level posture that facilitates calm exchange versus nonverbal power plays.

Step 8 – Monitor Tone and Volume

Raising your voice may feel instinctive right when angry, but it’s counterproductive. Consciously soften vocal tones and volume to keep interactions from spiraling. A softer tone is less combative and more conducive to problem-solving mindsets.

Step 9 – Take Breaks to Diffuse Emotions

If anger, fear, or frustration start rising, request pausing the discussion entirely for a break. Go for a walk, call a friend – anything to release built-up tensions and regain composure before continuing. Rushed, emotionally fraught talks rarely end well.

Step 10 – Address the Problem, Not the Person

Stay focused on the real issue at hand versus attacks on character. For example, criticize a disrespectful action instead of calling the other person “disrespectful.” This keeps conversations constructive and remedies specific problems.

With these techniques, even heated conversations can become opportunities for understanding, agreement, and healthy resolutions over discord. The keys are acknowledging emotions wisely and prioritizing progress above reactionary impulses. With care and effort, difficult discussions need not remain difficult.

Tips for Emotions During A Difficult Conversation

Here are some additional tips for emotionally charged discussions:

  • Breathe deeply before speaking to respond thoughtfully versus reactively.
  • Make “I feel” statements to convey emotions without blaming or accusations.
  • Find common interests/goals to build rapport and keep interactions collaborative.
  • Take breaks proactively if tensions rise versus waiting until at the breaking point.
  • Consider mediation for especially high-conflict topics outside direct debates.
  • Accept imperfect resolutions and agree to revisit issues later if overly upset presently.
  • Thank the other side for honest discussions, even with lingering disagreements.

With self-awareness and composure, anyone can constructively navigate even the most challenging conversations. Stay focused on effective communication above temporary reactionary relief from getting upset. Progress lies in galvanizing understanding, not conflict.

Read Also: How to Encourage Employees to Take Initiative: The Complete Guide for Managers

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