If you begin a difficult conversation in a fretful frame of mind, you’re already in trouble. Your anxiety may lead you to say or do things that make matters worse. Some tips:
Slow the tempo. If you’re anxious, you may react impulsively to what you hear. Instead, pause and give yourself a few seconds to think before you respond. Imposing a more deliberate pace on the conversation has a calming effect on everyone.
Skip the internal judgments. If you provide a running commentary on what’s going on, you can sabotage your effectiveness. Constantly telling yourself, “This is going downhill” or “I hate having to deal with this” will add to your negativity.
Tell yourself, “This is tough but I’ll get through it” rather than “This is horrible and I resent having to be here.”
Outline your thoughts. Prepare by writing a bulleted list of key points you want to make or issues to cover. But don’t go overboard and write a script. If you come across as reading lines that you’ve memorized, you will lack authenticity.
Take a breather. Enter into hard conversations only when you’re ready. If you’re preoccupied, you will feel more stressed and struggle to stay composed.
In the minutes before a potentially uncomfortable meeting, take a few deep breaths or walk around the block to clear your head. Collecting your thoughts can help you stay calm when it counts.
— Adapted from “How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work,” Rebecca Knight, www.hbr.org.