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How to Handle High-Tension Situations and Tough Conversations

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How to Handle High-Tension Situations and Tough Conversations

Last week, a friend of mine reached out to me to provide him with professional feedback. I had worked with him a few months prior, and he wanted my real, honest feedback- of which I had plenty.

Feedback is always a tough thing to go through for everyone involved, but this was going to be a new level of uncomfortable, since I needed to provide feedback to my friend.

High-tension situations are almost unavoidable. It’s crucial to approach these situations in the right way in order to get exactly what it is you want.

Think about the last time you were in a high-tension situation. How were people acting? How were you acting?

It’s likely that there were people who were staying quiet and avoiding the conflict and also people who were getting heated and obviously frustrated.

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Not talking things out will most likely cause you to act them out. This can be very, very bad for your career (or even your personal life)! There are two ends to the communication spectrum: silence and violence.

Neither end is productive or beneficial.

Avoiding conversations by being silent won’t allow you to express your thoughts, ideas, or feelings. At the same time, arguing to the point that you get violent is also not effective.

I couldn’t ignore my friend’s request, as he was definitely in need of feedback, but I needed to proceed with tact.

The goal is to find a middle ground- somewhere in between- where you’re expressing your thoughts and feelings, but in a productive, non-violent manner. Middle ground exists in the form of dialogue- talking things out in a productive manner to work toward achieving the desired outcome.

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Sounds easy enough, right?

Not quite.

We are often in situations that are out of our control, and we naturally go toward one end of a spectrum. As humans, our natural response to stressful situations is either fight or flight. It’s a natural reaction, and it’s hard to truly avoid having these reactions, and so our communication naturally shuts down.

What you can control, however, is how you respond to these natural reactions.

But how?

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Prepare yourself.

When you know that you are going to be having a tough conversation with someone, you must prepare yourself. When tensions get high, the conversation can immediately take a turn for the worse.

But, if you prepare yourself before going into a high-tension conversation, you greatly improve your chances of having the conversation turn out how you want it to.

How to Handle High-Tension Situations and Tough Conversations

    How do you prepare for a critical conversation?

    You must know the outcome you want. At work, this could be things like: a salary raise, the ability to work from home one day a week, more management experience, etc.

    In your personal life, maybe it’s getting your significant other to help you with dinner on Mondays and Wednesdays.

    Whatever the situation is, know exactly what it is that you want from the conversation. It’s crucial to keep this at the forefront of your mind for the entire conversation so you don’t unnecessarily stray toward being silent or violent.

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    Another step in preparing yourself is to know what you want to say. Don’t go into a high-tension conversation or situation without knowing what it is you want to say. When we are unprepared to talk, we often start off by blabbing out the first thing that pops into our heads, and this can make the situation worse. Or, we don’t say anything at all.

    If you know what you want to say, you’re less likely to start the conversation off on the wrong foot. Treat this just like any other high-stakes situation. Think about it- professional athletes don’t go out on the field without practicing their playbook for days or weeks before a game.

    So, I needed to practice what I wanted to say to my friend, so I:

    1. Wrote out exactly what I wanted to say
    2. Practiced reading out loud by myself
    3. Simulated the conversation with a colleague at work

    As I practiced, I tried to look at what I wrote as little as possible. Practicing like this made my actual conversation that much easier.

    Prepare yourself and what it is that you want to say, and you’ll be able to influence the direction of the conversation, making it that much easier and more likely for you to achieve the outcome you want. Finding middle ground in a critical conversation isn’t easy, but by preparing yourself ahead of time, you’re bound to make the conversation easier on yourself and significantly improve your chances of success.

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    What are ways you try to keep dialogue flowing during conversations? Let me know in the comments below.

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    Dominic DeMartini

    Founder of DrivenProfessional, helping professionals improve leadership and social skills.

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