*Article borrowed by Harvard Business Review*
JUNE 09, 2016
It’s not easy to stay cool and engaged when things get heated in meetings, negotiations, or difficult conversations. We’ve all been there. You might say something that you later regret, or get stuck on one point trying to prove that you’re right, ultimately losing sight of the bigger picture. Maybe you’ve damaged trust in a broader relationship with a colleague, client, vendor, or perhaps your spouse or kids. At times like this, you might wish you could hit that reset button and have a do-over. With so much at stake, how do you keep a heated conversation constructive?Watch for the tipping point. Know your own cues for when a healthy, lively debate is tipping into a more precarious direction. Only you know what’s happening inside of you, signaling that your “fight or flight” bells are about to go off. The best indicator, according to Amy Gallo, author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work, “is your own physical reaction that you are starting to feel threatened. Your heart rate goes up, your face may turn red, and your breathing becomes more shallow.” As things physiologically get turned up, says Gallo, “the risk is losing access to the rational front cortex of the brain and then it becomes more difficult to be your best self.”
Rick Juneja, SVP for Client Success at Opower, leads a team of 145 people whose role is to deliver software and services to global clients. Juneja says, “When something goes wrong, clients expect us to solve the issue fast, which is not always an easy task. Staying calm is critical.” He encourages his team to track not only their own reactions, but to also “watch for shifts in the other person. You could be heading down an unproductive path if you see the other person shift their weight, cross their arms, or start hurling questions at you. Rather than becoming reactive to that, stay in the driver’s seat.” Gallo concurs, “Emotional contagion is very real, so once one person gets heated up, it’s easy to mirror that behavior and before you know it, you have two people swinging punches.”
Focus on something physical to regain perspective. Because reactivity has such a strong physical element, bring focus to the physical self to stay calm. “First and foremost, breathe,” says Gallo. “By taking a few deep breaths, you can stay in your body and stay out of reactive mode.” Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique for quick results, where you breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, and exhale for 8. Dr. Andrew Weil, physician and author of many integrative medicine and health books, describes this breathing technique as “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens before you react.” You can watch Dr. Weil’s demonstration of how to do this, as well as its additional health benefits, here.
In addition to breathing, literally touch objects around you and notice the sensations. “Put your hand on the table,” says Gallo. “Feel your feet on the ground. Notice where your legs are resting on the chair. The key is not to get stuck in your head.” You can also “zoom out” and notice the art work on the walls or the size of the room — anything to increase the sense of space that may be closing in if you are starting to feel defensive or backed up on your heels.
YOU AND YOUR TEAM SERIESNegotiating
Get to empathy and create bridges. With a more objective viewpoint, you can bring empathy to the conversation. Juneja regularly advises his team, “Let the other person air her grievances. Ensure that she feels heard and gets things off her chest.” Gallo agrees. “What I see happen in conflict is that someone starts to vent and the other person feels a need to interrupt. Instead, suspend the need to be right and move to a more powerful place of listening.”
Empathy is not about agreement. Nor is it the same as giving in, being passive, or allowing the other person to mistreat you. Recognize as you make more room for emotion that you are actually helping to discharge it. By allowing the other person to vent, you also gain access to other important facts, assumptions, and constraints at play – all critical information for bridging the gap between you and the other person. Below are some illustrative examples of bridges that can lead to more constructive resolution when things get heated:
Amy Jen Su is a co-founder and managing partner of Paravis Partners, a boutique executive coaching and leadership development firm. She is co-author, with Muriel Maignan Wilkins, of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence. Follow Amy on twitter @amyjensu.
This article is about DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS
FOLLOW THIS TOPIC