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Remaining Cool as a Cucumber

Difficult and emotional conversations are an inevitable part of life. And recently, during a conversation in one of my executive coaching sessions, the nonprofit leader I was working with found themselves facing a difficult conversation.

This conversation brought reminded me of several that I have prepared myself for over my career, too. So I dug out some tools that I have personally utilized during my career and thought some, if not of us, could also use this as a resource.

Whether it’s with a board member, a colleague, or a friend, sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you need to have a challenging discussion. In these instances, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, emotional, and even reactive. However, it’s essential to remain calm during these conversations to communicate effectively, maintain relationships, and prevent things from escalating.

Here are some tips to help you stay calm during difficult and emotional conversations:

1. Breathe and ground yourself

One of the most important things you can do when you find yourself in a difficult conversation is to take a moment to breathe and ground yourself. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly release it through your mouth. Repeat this a few times until you feel calmer. Also, try to focus on your body and senses to ground yourself, such as feeling the chair you're sitting on, your feet on the ground, or the sensation of your clothes on your skin.

A shout- out to Mindfulness First that teaches mindfulness. Mindfulness takes you on a journey where you'll learn how to notice and regulate your habits, senses, emotions, and thoughts.

2. Listen actively and show empathy

During a difficult conversation, it’s important to actively listen to the other person and show empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand where they are coming from. Repeat back what they have said to ensure that you have understood them correctly. Also, acknowledge their feelings and validate them by saying things like, “I understand how you feel.”

3. Pause and reflect before responding

It’s crucial to take a moment to pause and reflect before responding during a difficult conversation. This will help you avoid reacting impulsively, saying something you might regret, or making the situation worse. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What is my intention in responding to this?” This will help you respond in a way that aligns with your values and goals.

I advise having a few go-to statements to have on the ready.

For example:

  • “That gives me something to think about, can I get back to you on that later?”

  • “You know, we have not considered that but let me speak with the team and see what they think.”

4. Don’t take it personally

During difficult conversations, it’s easy to take things personally, become defensive, or feel attacked. However, it’s important to remember that the other person's actions and words are often a reflection of their own emotions, experiences, and perceptions. Try not to take things personally and remain objective. This will help you stay calm and prevent the conversation from becoming too emotional or heated.

5. Practice self-care

Finally, practicing self-care is essential when dealing with difficult and emotional conversations. This may include taking breaks to regroup, speaking with a therapist, or engaging in activities that help you relax and unwind. Self-care helps you manage your emotions, reduce stress, and improve your overall well-being. The hustle and grind mentality is not healthy.

Remaining calm during difficult and emotional conversations is not always easy, but it’s essential. Hopefully these tools will also help you navigate these conversations with greater ease and effectiveness. Remember, the goal of these conversations is to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and maintain relationships.

And when you knock this out of the park, make sure you celebrate your successes in your Success Journal! Small steps are still steps towards progress. And I am a big fan of celebrating all successes -- no matter the size of the win!


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