Breath of Clarity

Difficult Emotions

It is a bad idea to have a difficult conversation when emotions are high because it is difficult to bring someone back to a level state. People react not to an objective world but to a world fashioned from their own perceptions and assumptions about what the world is like (Manning 2014). So, the actions that a leader takes in the objective world may not be able to seep into the brain of a person who is immersed in his or her own perceptions and assumptions about the situation.

That said, I would concentrate on observing the person so I can better understand where they’re coming from. According to Solomeh Diaz (n.d.), I can do so by looking for their discomfort cues. For instance, I can pay attention to breathing and whether the person is repeating their points. Further, I can notice the tone, volume, and energy behind their words. Instead of asking questions in between the other’s aggressive tendencies, I need to just listen and hold space. From there, I would let the person know that they’re getting excited. Then, I would take a moment and step away.

Finally, I would say, “I can see you, I hear you. I see you’re upset. Let’s take a moment” (Diaz n.d.). I would pay a lot of attention to how I am talking to the person so I can radiate a gentle demeanor.

In order to minimize my own emotions, I need to remind myself that I am reacting based on my own perceptions and assumptions about what the world is like, as well. One thing I can do to diffuse the emotions to generate a calm, value-added conversation is evaluate my own morale and take actions to boost it. I can consider how predictable, understanding, and enthusiastic I am being and focus on generously praising my employees (Manning 2014). I can also show support by setting a strong example as well as visiting front lines people with eyes and ears open (Manning 2014). Then, I am going to be in a strong position to support someone else.

I can also implement Manning’s (2014) guidelines for handling complaints:

Keep cool, calm, and collected

Listen patiently without interrupting

Accept and acknowledging the person’s point of view

Ask questions to fully understand the problem and to fully understand what the person wants

Discuss possible solutions

Reach closure

Thank the person genuinely for speaking up

Follow through


Diaz, Solomeh. Year (n.d.) “Warning: Crucial Conversations Are Hard. (Here’s how to make them better.)” Vitalsmarts Australia/New Zealand. YouTube. Sept. 6, 2017. Video, 6:26.

Manning, George. 2014. The Art of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill

Comment by Lisa Neuberger:

Hi Mary,

I like what you noted about addressing your own emotions so you are able to support your employee during a difficult conversation. It’s like the directions we all hear on an airplane: you have to put on your own oxygen mask so you can take care of the people around you. If you pass out (or become overly anxious or upset during the conversation), you’ll be no good to anyone else.

I also completely agree with Manning’s guidelines — but they sound so much easier on paper then they would be in real life, especially keeping calm, cool, and collected. Are any of Manning’s guidelines easier for you to implement?

I’ve been part of meetings lately where things have gotten heated. It’s been so interesting to me to see people vehemently disagree but end up back in a calm place. I think the secret has been that everyone is working toward the same goal. Plus the disagreements have been over specific concepts — not any one person’s performance.

Comment by Professor Robert Gnuse:

Mary, very perceptive introductory statement. Good suggestions regarding taking a step back if the other person is getting to excitable.. Being able to create an environment of calmness can allow for empathy to be acknowledged which can enhance the dialogue occurring. Good mentioning of morale as it can determine the willingness of others to share concerns or issues which could affect not only them but the whole (group dynamic). People can get “excited” when they feel strongly about an issue so creating this calm, comfortable environment can enhance meaningful engagement.