Remaining calm in time of heated work conversations

Posted on February 26, 2018 at 6:11 PM

Having difficult work conversations is inevitable, regardless if you are a manager or an employee. Whether you are discussing the introduction of an unpleasant change at the office, telling your team they have to work overtime, or being told your work performance is less than acceptable, difficult conversations are part of the office package. Here are some suggestions on how to handle these stressful conversations.

  1. Take a deep breath

    Whenever you start getting tense, focus on your breathing. There is a reason people are told to count to ten when feeling angry or stressed. Taking deep breaths can help you stay focused on the important details rather than your emotions. Breathing exercises affect your whole body. They are a good way to reduce tension, relax and relieve stress. You can also try the "box-breathing" method.

  2. Be cautious of non-verbal signs

    Clenched fists and gritted teeth may send a defensive or threatening message to the person you are speaking with, so try to keep your body tension-free. When possible try to have the difficult conversations in a room where both you and the other person can be mobile and walk around. Sitting can make emotions build-up. If the conversation is best situated for sitting, try pressing your fingers together underneath the table to release some physical tension.

  3. Be prepared to handle the other person's emotions

    If you start to sense that the conversation is getting tense and emotions are heightening, you are likely not the only one who is feeling that way. It may not be appropriate to ask the other person to calm down or to take a deep breath. Instead, validate their emotions by saying "it seems that you are upset so help me understand why". Yelling back is never a good idea and will only escalate the problem. Though it is not easy, sometimes the best thing to do is just sit and listen.

  4. Take a break

    If you find yourself in a conversation full of tension and quickly going off course, it is a good idea to pause it and revisit at a later time. This will help both sides to take the time to process their emotions and re-join the conversation with clearer head. Whenever you find yourself in this kind of situation, excuse yourself, get a cup of coffee, go to the restroom, or if needed do not be afraid to ask for rescheduling the meeting for another day.