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Emotional Management Techniques During a Difficult Conversation

Two coworkers engaged in a focused and respectful conversation at a conference room table, illustrating effective communication and conflict resolution in the workplace.
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It is inevitable that difficult conversations may arise at work. Whether it’s a disagreement over a project, differences in opinion, or a heated argument, emotions can run high, making it difficult to have a productive dialogue. However, mastering the art of emotional control during difficult conversations is a valuable skill that can lead to better relationships, improved problem-solving, and a more positive work environment. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore strategies to help you maintain emotional composure during challenging discussions.

Understanding the Emotional Response

Before delving into techniques to control your emotions, it’s crucial to comprehend why difficult conversations trigger emotional reactions. When faced with conflict, our bodies often react instinctively, preparing us for a “fight or flight” response. This physiological reaction, rooted in our evolutionary history, can be detrimental in a professional setting.

Case Study: Imagine a team meeting where two colleagues, Sarah and John, strongly disagree about the direction of a project. As their argument escalates, both experience an emotional surge, marked by increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and muscle tension. This physiological response hinders their ability to think rationally and communicate effectively, turning a disagreement into a full-blown conflict.

Interrupting the Emotional Response

To regain control during difficult conversations, you must interrupt the automatic emotional response. Here are effective strategies to help you stay composed and focused:

1. Breathe Mindfully

Breathing is a powerful tool to regain composure. When you notice tension building, take a moment to concentrate on your breath. Inhale slowly and deeply, feeling the air enter your lungs and exit through your nostrils. Exhale at a controlled pace. Consider counting your breaths to stay grounded and calm.

Example: During a heated discussion, Sarah realizes she’s becoming agitated. She silently counts to six with each inhalation and exhalation, allowing her to refocus her attention and reduce stress.

2. Focus on Your Body

Physical movement can help activate the rational part of your brain. If appropriate, stand up and walk around to release tension. Alternatively, engage in subtle physical actions, like crossing your fingers or firmly placing your feet on the ground. This technique, known as “anchoring,” helps redirect your focus away from heightened emotions.

Case Study: John, who prefers to sit during discussions, discreetly crosses his fingers under the table as a way to ground himself and maintain emotional equilibrium.

3. Use Mantras

Create simple phrases or mantras that you can repeat to yourself during challenging conversations. These mantras act as reminders to stay calm and centered.

Example: Sarah adopts the mantra “This isn’t about me” to remind herself that the disagreement is not a personal attack but a difference of opinion.

4. Acknowledge and Label Your Feelings

Psychologist Susan David suggests acknowledging and labeling your emotions. By separating yourself from your feelings, you can gain perspective and prevent them from overwhelming you.

Scenario: When John feels anger rising during a heated exchange, he mentally labels it as “I’m having the thought that my coworker is wrong, and I’m feeling anger.” This labeling helps him detach from the emotion and view it as temporary data.

5. Take a Break

Sometimes, the best course of action is to temporarily step away from the conversation. Give yourself time to process your emotions and regain your composure. Politely request a break by saying, “I’d like to take a quick break to gather my thoughts. Can I get you something while I’m up?”

Illustration: Sarah, recognizing that the conversation is escalating, suggests a short break to grab a coffee. This pause allows both parties to cool down and approach the discussion more rationally.

Responding to Emotional Colleagues

In addition to managing your emotions, it’s essential to navigate conversations with emotionally charged colleagues. Here are some tips:

  • Listen Actively: Allow your colleague to express their emotions without interruption. Show empathy and understanding by nodding and maintaining eye contact.
  • Avoid Escalation: Visualize their words passing over your shoulder, not hitting you in the chest. Refrain from responding with anger or defensiveness.
  • Reflect and Clarify: After your colleague vents, reflect on their concerns and ask clarifying questions. This demonstrates your commitment to understanding their perspective.


Difficult conversations in the workplace are a natural part of professional life. Learning how to control your emotions during these exchanges is essential for effective communication, conflict resolution, and maintaining positive relationships. By practicing mindfulness, adopting calming strategies, and empathetically engaging with emotionally charged colleagues, you can transform tense encounters into opportunities for growth and collaboration. Embrace these techniques, and you’ll find yourself navigating difficult conversations with the composure of a seasoned professional, ultimately enhancing your career success and workplace satisfaction.

Here are some links for our readers with valuable perspectives from reputable sources that support and expand on the ideas discussed in this article. Explore and enrich yourself.

  1. Psychology Today – Controlling Your Emotions During Difficult Conversations
    Link: Psychology Today Article
    This article provides insights into the psychology behind managing emotions during challenging discussions.
  2. Harvard Business Review – How to Manage Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation
    Link: HBR Article
    Harvard Business Review offers practical tips and strategies for maintaining emotional composure in professional conversations.
  3. Forbes – 10 Ways to Keep Your Emotions in Check During a Difficult Conversation
    Link: Forbes Article
    Forbes provides a list of actionable techniques to control emotions during challenging discussions in the workplace.
  4. Mindful – How Mindfulness Can Help in Difficult Conversations
    Link: Mindful Article
    This article explores the role of mindfulness in managing emotions and improving communication during tough conversations.
  5. Inc. – Emotional Intelligence: The Key to Successful Difficult Conversations
    Link: Inc. Article
    Inc. discusses the importance of emotional intelligence and how it can impact the outcome of difficult conversations.

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Mirza Rakib Shovon

About The Author:
Mirza Rakib Hasan Shovon
Managing Director and CEO
Aristo Tex International
Technet Corporation
Research & Development
International Corporate Association of Professionals (InCAP)


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