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How to Stay Calm and Cope During Difficult Conversations


No one likes difficult conversations. They can make you feel vulnerable and scared. You cringe because you don’t know if you’ll like what you hear. At other times, you imagine the person you’re talking with is defenseless and don’t want to cause pain. You hold your breath, hoping what you say is received better than you anticipate. Talking to people about challenging topics need not make your knees go weak and heart pound like a jackhammer, when you know how to cope. Keep your breath flowing Imagine a calm tide. Whoosh, flowing slowly back and forth with ease. A continual, smooth, comfortable movement. Now envision an aggressive current, with fast, uneven waves coursing across the ocean. The two examples demonstrate the difference between your breathing patterns when you’re relaxed or anxious. Instead of holding your breath, or inhaling and exhaling high in your chest rapidly, relax and develop a calm rhythm. Slow your breathing down and let air sink to your belly before it rises and you’ll relax. Keep your objective in mind Finding a peaceful outcome will be tough if you forget your goal. People who lose their way in difficult conversations say things they later regret and don’t achieve their aims. Be clear what you want from a discussion before it begins. Also, get into the habit of steering dialog back to the main issue when you notice it veering and you won’t drag the conversation out or mislay the plot. Avoid the language of blame Conversations deteriorate when verbal mud-slinging ensues. Saying “you caused the problem” or “you’re wrong” makes people defensive. Name calling, of course, is insulting and encourages others to retaliate. Preaching, scolding, and other forms of aggressive speech will upset you, even if you’re not on the receiving end. Speak slowly in a calm tone and you’ll retain your composure and stay on track. Stick to “what” not “why” “Why” halts progress whereas “What” results in constructive ideas. What can you do to improve the situation? What’s the next step? Asking what-related questions will keep the conversation moving in the right direction and prevent unnecessary doleful verbiage. Difficult conversations are uncomfortable but remember why you have them. They may initiate improvement. Let your breathing pattern help you relax. As a result, you’ll get to the point fast and stay composed. Avoid critical language and offer helpful ideas, too, and you’ll cope well and be calm.