6 Tips for Keeping Your Cool During Difficult Conversations

Difficult conversations are almost impossible to dodge in the workplace. In fact, a CPP Inc. study on workplace conflict revealed that employees in the United States spend roughly 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict.

When we think of confronting difficult conversations, we associate it with a negative connotation. But believe it or not, difficult conversations can actually be incredibly productive. It’s all about channeling the right energy, keeping your cool, and coming with a plan.

Here are six ways to keep your cool during difficult conversations within the workplace:

1- Define what you want out of the conversation.

Take time to plan for a difficult conversation in advance. Think about what you want to achieve, then visualize the situation or role play the upcoming conversation in your head. Prepare for different outcomes or reactions that might result as a product of your conversation. Your goal should never be to verbally attack another person — you should always aim to reach a specified goal.

2- Consider the source.

Consider the communication and learning styles of the targeted recipient. For example, if the recipient is an introvert, then your communication style should be different than if talking to an extrovert. Learning styles are also important, too. As you prepare for the conversation, consider using a visual if you are communicating to a visual learner, or act out the issues if you are communicating to a tactile learner.

3- Think before you speak.

Use the silence between thoughts and conversation to channel your thoughts. The human inclination is to fill pauses, but you should use silence to your advantage by using it to listening and reflect before you speak so you do not make any knee-jerk reactions.

4- Keep your cool.

Emotions can get the best of you and sometimes you say things that you might not actually mean. Robert Plutcick’s Emotion Wheel reveals that emotions can escalate quickly, like when annoyance escalates to rage if not properly dealt with. The workplace is the last place you want to lose your cool. The best way to come to resolutions is through calm conversation.

5- Bring respect to the conversation.

The Golden Rule applies to conversations that occur in the workplace. Always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Having a foundation of respect fosters open and honest dialogue — without feeling like you are under attack.

6- Don’t shut down.

Often times our reaction when faced with something we don’t want to hear is to emotionally shut off. If you are on the receiving end of a difficult conversation, think about this: silence never facilitates a healthy resolution. Work through emotions verbally and try to be open to discussing your thoughts and feelings.

A person with high emotional intelligence knows to limit any damage to a relationship during difficult conversations. And with the above tips, the outcome of these conversations will always be a good one.

Can you think of any additional tips for handling difficult conversations? For more resources, check out this Harvard Business Review article written by Sarah Green highlighting nine common mistakes we make when we conduct a difficult conversation.

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Lori Kensington

This is great information! How would a person handle a sudden targeting though? There is a person in my workplace who seems to target others with conflict, creating difficulty and animosity. They do not listen to other people, as their opinion or way to do things is ‘always right’. Can you offer some tips for dealing with that type of person? Thank you. LK

David Kuehn

There may not be much you can do in the moment. Think about when would be a good time to have a conversation with that person. When you talk to the person, identify the specific behavior and instance and state the impact of the behavior. Even if the person is right, the way he presents his ideas shuts down discussion so people do not want to participate or support the idea. You can ask the person, are you getting the results you want? How could you raise your ideas or concerns in a way that could improve the outcome?