How to Manage Your Emotions in Difficult Conversations

by | Sep 15, 2015

Do you have difficult conversations or tough interview coming up?

Don't just practice the words you want to say. Learn how to manage your emotions too!

Marcia LIWhat do you want to feel throughout the conversation? What do you want the other person to feel? Set the emotional tone from the beginning of the conversation and then hold it throughout to get the results you want.

Note: Before reading further, consider taking the Rate Your Zone of Discomfort quiz to judge your ability to deal with uncomfortable situations and where you can start improving your comfort with discomfort.

Check your feelings about people before you hold the conversation

Be careful of assuming the person will act a specific way. [Tweet "You will generally get what you expect, positively or negatively."] If you are angry with the person or feeling intimidated, you need to release these emotions before entering the conversation. Again, choose how you want to feel - courageous, calm, confident, passionate, optimistic - and use this word as your anchor throughout the conversation to keep your emotions intact.

Do you know the person you will be speaking with? If you think the other person will be emotional or withhold emotions altogether giving you a poker face, you still need to stick with the emotions you choose to feel.

Before engaging in the conversation, envision what could happen, including the worst case scenario. Choose how you want to respond. [Tweet "A clear vision acts as a dress rehearsal that will help you get through the real thing."]

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Manage how you respond to the other person’s discomfort

Your own brain has automatic defense mechanisms that are naturally on alert at all times. When the conversation begins to feel risky, messy, or emotionally unstable, you need to breathe and recall your emotional intention for the conversation.

Vincent Van Gogh said, “Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives, and we obey them without realizing it.” You need to notice when your body tenses up or your breathing shortens so you can release the tension and return to being present.

Your commitment to helping the person achieve his or her goals, not just to make things better for yourself, must be evident from the beginning to the end. [Tweet "Remember that people are always interested in what is in the conversation for them."] Find a mutual good result to keep the interest flowing.

Keep your impatience in check

Finally, the demon you will most have to battle is your own impatience for getting the result you want. You will need to be comfortable with letting the process unfold.

When you think you know exactly what is wrong with the other person’s thinking, your best approach is to patiently ask them questions that will help them see other possibilities, ones that more closely match your point of view.[Tweet " If you slip and tell people what is wrong with their thinking, their brains will shut down."] No one likes being made to feel wrong. You can read more on how to change people’s mind with an inquiry process in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.

You also have to be patient with silence. Silence is often an indication that what you said or asked caused the person the person stop and think about his or her thinking. The best thing you can do is to be patient and allow the person’s brain to work.

Be curious and care

Be fascinated by the human in front of you. Don’t let him or her frustrate or scare you. Stay calm and intentional throughout the conversation to move toward the results you want to achieve.


Originally posted in Pulse LinkedIn on 28th October 2014


Marcia Reynolds Contributor
Dr. Marcia Reynolds, president of Covisioning LLC, is author of The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs. She weaves together three areas of expertise: organizational change, coaching and emotional intelligence to help leaders have powerful conversations.
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