The most tense and nerve-racking conversations are usually the most important ones. Remember how you felt when you had to say “No” to someone who intimidated you. How about asking for a raise? Talking to people you don’t like or don’t feel connected to. And reacting to the relationship classic - “We need to talk”. They have a major impact on our life, yet we’d prefer to skip them whenever we can.
All these conversations have one thing in common – stress. It overwhelms our mind and switches on the auto-pilot. It feels like drowning or walking in pouring rain and violent wind. Through the ocean of stress, we struggle to stay afloat and to hear what is being said. We feel like not talking equals drowning, so we go on and on and can’t seem to stop.
Let’s take back control and defeat stress in hard conversations with these 10 solutions!
Answer right away| Count to 5 before you speak
When you’re riding on a wave of stress, you’re already more likely to let other emotions in. They rule your voice, make you say things you don’t really mean, turn you in to someone you’re not. You need to buy yourself time.
Pauses are magic. They allow you to let the other person finish their own thoughts, allow you to process what has been said and to think about an answer. It’s amazing how quickly strong emotions can evaporate once you give them some time to do so.
Buy yourself time by: counting to 5, paraphrasing what you think the other person just said and simply saying thing like “Hm, let me think about that”.
Think aloud| Learn to listen to yourself
Loose lips sink ships.
It’s so easy to let all that stress out by talking. After all, if you’re talking, you’re not listening to stressful things. It just feels so nice and calming. The problem is it’s tedious to listen to and the more you talk, the more likely you are to blurt out the wrong thing.
Slow down while you talk and force yourself to pause. Keeping a structure in mind can help you give the right answer and nothing more. Use the following: reflect what you think the other person just said/meant, mention how it makes you feel, explain what you would like to happen, pass the ball to the other person with a question. Rephrase, react, respond, reciprocate.
Speak passionately and with conviction| Speak slowly and don’t raise your voice
We are so used to hearing our own voice, that we lose all sense of how it is perceived by others. Often times this means that our emotions control our voice more than our common sense does. If you get emotional and raise your voice, so will the person you are talking to. You need to stay in control.
An easy trick to controlling your voice is imagining you are a nighttime radio host. Think silky voice, slow talking, soft and relaxed. Just like pausing, this will help you keep emotions and the tone of your voice in check. It’s especially useful when the person you’re speaking to is saying something hurtful, hurls insults or criticism at you and acts in a frustrating manner. Pause and turn on the nighttime DJ – you are in control.
Explain in detail| Talk less, learn more
There are a lot of details that you base your decisions on. Details are important, because you used them to come to this conclusion. Sadly, they are trivial to everyone else. Skip the details, get to the point and focus on listening.
Before going in to a hard conversation, set your goal to “Learn as much as I can”. Not “judge”, not “make fun of”, not “react”. No situation is completely black and white, so be curious, ask questions. Ask “Why?”, “How does it feel?”, “What do you need?”, “How can I help?”
You’re much more likely to get respect, understanding and cooperation when you display them first, so listen and engage with the other person.
Show that you know more| Don’t talk about things you don’t know
You probably don’t even notice it, but you can often end up talking about things you really know nothing about. They usually come in the form of a judgment or estimation. “It should only take a few minutes to...”, “It’s not that bad of a loss, I’ve had worse.”, “She said that to you because...” You’re trying to interpret or imagine things, but they come out as judgements. This can often hurt the people you’re talking to, or hurt you when you’re called out on your lack of knowledge or experience.
Skip the talking and interpreting and if you don’t know, simply ask the person who does. Not knowing does not signify weakness – no one is all-know. Don’t feel like you need to have an answer for every question. If you have to talk about things you’re unsure of, say “I’m not sure”. Before assuming, say “I feel like…”, “I imagine…” and leave room for the possibility of being challenged on your assumptions.
Apologize for mistakes and explain| Acknowledge the mistake and give a solution
Admitting mistakes is hard. There’s a lot that goes with them: shame, regret, fear of judgment, social pressure. Each person is unique in which part of the mistake they focus on, and there are a lot of wrong parts you can focus on here.
Excessive talking, apologizing and explaining are your worst enemies. Not only are they tedious to listen to, they can make a mistake look larger than it really is. Concentrate on pausing and keeping your mind still. State the facts, avoid assumptions and blame, state what happened, apologize once if you have to. Next, propose solutions and future actions to stop the mistake from happening again. Stop and do not mention the mistake in the conversation again. People will react to it, judge, state their feelings, try to shame you or pick apart your actions. Don’t add details, don’t add explanation, simply repeat what you said and bring the conversation back to finding solutions.
Expect to be appreciated| Ask for the things you need
It’s draining to feel unappreciated. To feel like you have to talk about your accomplishments all day long to get a word of thanks. If not addressed, this pain can build up and come out in the words you say or the things you do. The more you let it grow, the harder to control, powerful and destructive it gets.
When feeling unappreciated, try to use those feelings in a productive way. Write down all the things you accomplished, write down what you want to receive for them. It can be incredibly rewarding and calming to turn stress and frustration in to words. Once you have your needs outlined, ask for them when you get a chance. State what you accomplished, state what you need to happen, state why it affects you. Even if you get only a few things back, it will lessen the stress you feel considerably.
Don’t think, just do it| Prepare and rehearse in advance
“Just do it” is good advice, but only when you’ve already thought things through. Stress is painful to hold on to, so you often talk it out or act it out. That can lead to destructive behaviors and devastating habits.
You often have conversations in your head, imagining what the other person will say and what you will answer. Release that stress by writing down your thoughts, so you can come up with better responses and practice saying hard things out loud.
Before the conversation, sit quietly for a few moments, let your mind and body relax. Think of positive things about yourself; compliment your own skills and achievements to boost confidence. The more positive and prepared you feel, the smoother the conversation will go and the easier it will be to control your emotions and actions.
Call things what they are| Focus on the solution
Often times a hard conversation turns in to name-calling, blaming, judgment exchanges and other unproductive forms of communication. Calling things what they are is satisfying, but absolutely unproductive. You are trying to express your opinion, but end up creating tension and pushing away the people listening. Classifying the situation, describing actions and coming up with creative descriptions does not bring you closer to the solution.
Name-calling can be a hard blow to take without losing composure. Remember the pause, give yourself time and let the fire calm down. Once you are calm, steer the conversation in to a productive stream. It will take a few tries, the person you’re talking to might need some time to talk his emotions out. You must repeat the process of calming yourself down and steering the conversation towards finding a solution.
Mention all the problems| Focus on solving one problem at a time
Big problems bring small ones along for the ride. Several factors contribute to stressful situations and make finding a solution tricky. You can end up letting your feelings of being unappreciated cloud your attempts at getting a raise. It is like throwing all of your fuel in to the fire all at once. You don’t want the conversation to heat up to a boiling point.
Write down all the problems beforehand. Not just the ones that are related - all of them. Decide on what you will tackle and be weary when you talk, don’t let the other problems you listed, hijack your conversation. Keep your focus and composure.