4 Tips to Maintain Emotional Composure in the Heat of the Moment

Earlier this year my company was featured in a segment hosted by the iconic James Earl Jones called “Behind the Scenes.” The segment will air on Public Television stations as educational programming over the course of the year. It highlights our new program called “Meaningful Alignment.”

The reason we developed this program is due to the ever-present difficulties we observe in clients, friends and families during high impact, high stakes conversations. These conversations are often emotionally charged -- therefore making it difficult to maintain a composed state of awareness. With this in mind, we developed a proprietary model, assessment and workshop to help address this issue. The challenge is to safeguard your emotions by being mindful and conscience of your reactions. With practice, you can transform high-stakes, stressful conversations into more collaborative exchanges with promising outcomes.

If you’re interested in viewing the TV segment, you can watch it here.

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 serious disturbances in the way you process information and the way you retain it. During a high stakes conversation, you are often operating out of the part of your brain called the amygdala -- the fight or flight center. It is a place of extreme emotions, not conducive to a calm exchange or constructive outcome.

We are rarely cognizant about what we are feeling and why. However, by maintaining a composed state of awareness and being mindful and conscience of your reactions, with practice you can transform high-stakes, stressful conversations into more collaborative exchanges with promising outcomes.

Here are four ways to gather your composure during an emotionally charged conversation:

1. Pause -- and take a breath.

While the other person is speaking, take the time to focus on your breath. Simply focusing on long deep breaths takes you out of your head and into the body. If you remain in your head, you are likely to allow your emotions get the best of you, as you will set off the amygdala and your reactions will be extreme. When you find ways to calm your emotions, the pre-frontal cortex, the critical thinking portion of our brain, is engaged. Once this occurs, you can then start to think -- and not just react -- and the exchange becomes more logical and less emotional.

2. Seek to understand without judgment.

Try to understand the other person's point-of-view, concerns and feelings by asking more questions. When you ask questions -- the attention is diverted from you and on the other person, buying you some critical time to take deep breaths, calm down and allow you more time to gather your thoughts. Asking questions in order to elucidate their point of view will also help diffuse the situation, as you are showing a genuine desire to hear what the other person has to say.

3. Ask for clarification.

This is an important step -- particularly when emotions are out of control. Be a patient, active listener and try not to focus on what you want to say in response. Ask for more specifics throughout the conversation if you think what is being said is somewhat vague or could potentially become misconstrued.

4. Delay the conversation.

Recognize that you may not always be able to manage your feelings when the stakes are high. If this happens, consider delaying the conversation rather than allowing impulsive reactions to cloud your judgment or have a negative impact on your words and behavior. Rescheduling the conversation allows all parties involved some time to reset and potentially refresh their perspective.

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