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More Confidence in Difficult Conversations: How to Keep Calm And Stay In Control

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Some conversations are exhausting and may even make us feel uncomfortable, stressed, or overwhelmed.

Luckily there are some helpful things that we can keep in mind in order to handle difficult conversations with more confidence and inner peace. We would like to invite you to let the tips below inspire you and to try out what feels good for you. If you are specifically concerned with the question of how you can address your issue, we also recommend this article.

Before the conversation, you can try to:

  • Organize your thoughts in written form: If you already know what the topic will be before the conversation, take some time to collect and organize your thoughts and feelings about the topic. It is helpful to write down what is going through your mind, for example in a mind map. By writing down your thoughts, you can organize them better. Moreover, they are physically stored, so you don't have to keep them in your head all the time. This makes it easier for you to find time to relax before the conversation.

  • Align your focus on the conversation: Right before the talk, allow yourself a few minutes to take a few deep breaths and focus on the upcoming conversation. Try to let go of your thoughts about your previous or following appointments and focus entirely on the conversation at hand.

  • Reduce your tension: If you feel tension or excitement, you can use a simple trick: Breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. For example, count to 3 on the inhale and 6 on the exhale to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that is responsible for relaxation and recovery. Do this for about a minute and you will most likely already feel significantly calmer than before.

During the conversation you can try to:

  • Stay calm and release pressure: If you notice that you are very agitated and find it hard to concentrate or are worried about getting too emotional, you can try using your body as a calming anchor. See if you can focus your attention on your body and concentrate, for example, on how your body feels in the places where you touch the ground. Feel the secure and holding feeling of the floor under your feet or the chair under your buttocks. Alternatively, you can focus on your breathing and activate your parasympathetic nervous system as mentioned above. You can do these grounding and calming exercises without anyone noticing. It's best to practice these exercises ahead of time because the more practiced you are at relaxing, the better you'll be able to do it on cue. If you already know your own effective relaxation techniques, use whatever suits you best. 

  • Ask for clarification: As soon as a situation arises in a conversation in which you are unsure whether you have correctly understood what your dialogue partner has said - dare to ask for clarification. Often it is general statements that make us feel insecure or leave us with a question mark. In such moments it is important to ask questions like "How exactly do you mean that?" or "Can you give an example, so that I can understand better what you mean by that?". It is much easier to talk about concrete situations than about generalized statements. In this way, you have the opportunity to compare your two perceptions of the situation and to address issues more precisely. Moreover, this questioning and concretizing avoid drawing hasty conclusions and provide more clarity.

  • Recapitulate what your dialogue partner has said in your own words: You can summarize what your dialogue partner has said in your own words and thus reassure yourself that you have understood what was said correctly. This approach has several advantages: First, you signal to your dialogue partner that you hear what he/she is saying. Secondly, your dialogue partner has the opportunity to adjust or correct his/her statement. Thirdly, you gain time to sort out what has been said and to think about an answer. Last but not least, the probability that you will find yourselves on a common level of understanding is much higher this way.

  • Listen and be heard: You may have many points you want to bring up in the conversation. For the dialogue to be successful, it is crucial that both sides feel heard and understood. As described above, you can signal that you hear what your dialogue partner is saying and reflect on it by summarizing and querying. Conversely, it is also important that you are listened to. If you have the feeling that you are not being heard, ask questions like "What do you think about what I just said?" or "How does that sound to you?". In addition, you can always say openly if you feel that the other person isn't listening: "I have the feeling that what I just said was not heard/perceived. I would like to go back to that point, please".

  • Take time to reflect: In most situations, it is not necessary to make a decision immediately. If the topic is important and perhaps even exciting to you and you are overwhelmed in the conversation or simply do not yet have clarity regarding your opinion: Request time to reflect. Agree on a timeframe and continue the conversation if you feel you know how to proceed.

After the meeting, you can try to:

  • Schedule time for a follow-up: Often we rush from one appointment to the next and at the end of the day we no longer know what we have actually done and discussed. Therefore, plan a few minutes after a meeting to debrief the conversation. Reflect on what was discussed and what new goals or tasks emerged from the conversation. If necessary, take notes. You may notice at this point that there are still uncertainties. To clarify, you can, for example, write a summary e-mail about the dialogue to your counterpart and address any ambiguities. In this way, a new meeting can be arranged, or you can discuss minor issues and come to an agreement by e-mail. By reflecting and taking notes, you can for now close the conversation and move on to the rest of the day with a fresh head.

All the best for your conversation!

Author: Anna Seger