How to Handle Difficult Workplace Convos

When you learn how to manage your emotions – you’ll be in a much better position to navigate stressful, high-stakes interactions.

The inability to communicate well and build high levels of trust with one another in the workplace is a skill that directly affects the bottom line.

Poor communication can cost businesses dearly, resulting in lost sales, reduced productivity, high employee turnover, and low morale. This means business owners and leaders need to model level-headedness and strive to be a source of calm reassurance and confidence.

Expressing emotion in a way that will inspire team members through empathy, respect and compassion, while offering people timely, candid and courageous feedback, can transform company culture and bring about long-term positive change. However, very few people are trained to focus on these abilities throughout their careers. We’ve been rewarded for results, not our emotional skills.

The truth is, a lack of emotional self-management can seriously jeopardize both your business and personal relationships. The association between emotional regulation and effective leadership behavior has been well-established in scientific literature. When you are emotionally “hijacked” or in a particularly emotional state, there are critical disturbances in the way you process information and the way you retain it.

With practice, you can use your emotion to maximize and inspire others and transform high-stakes, often stressful conversations into a more collaborative outcome.

The goal is to be emotionally aware so that your emotions are working for you, not against you. We call this state of equilibrium “meaningful alignment.” Meaningful alignment refers to any conversation involving two or more people where collaboration and deep understanding are vital to a successful outcome.

Here are a few ways to help you gain emotional composure in the heat of the moment:

  • Pause – and take a breath. Long, deep breaths are helpful – but likely not possible if the situation has already escalated. However, focusing on your breath takes you out of your head and into the body. If you stay in the head, you are likely to let your emotions get the best of you, as you will be operating out of the amygdala, the brain’s “fight or flight center.”
  • Seek to understand without judgment. Ask more questions. When you ask questions, the attention on you is averted – and the focus is on the other person. That buys you some time to take that deep breath and calm down. Attempting to understand the other person’s viewpoint will also help diffuse the situation as you are showing a genuine desire to hear what the other person has to say.
  • Delay the conversation, if necessary. Recognize that you may not always be able to manage your feelings when the stakes are high. Consider delaying the conversation rather than allowing spontaneous feelings to influence your thoughts – and hence your words and behaviors. Rescheduling also allows all parties involved some time to reset and potentially refresh their perspective.

Susan Steinbrecher is a Fort Worth firm that pinpoints existing organizational problems and enhances performance through consulting and analysis. This is a guest column for FW Inc.