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How to Handle High-Tension Situations and Tough Conversations

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 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.

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

    More by this author

    Dominic DeMartini

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

    How to Handle High-Tension Situations and Tough Conversations 9 Things Confident People Do

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    Last Updated on June 6, 2019

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

    In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

    Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

    Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

    Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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       A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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      The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

      “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

      In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

      The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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        A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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        Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

        “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

        When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

        The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

        As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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        “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

        Silence relieves stress and tension.

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          It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

          A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

          “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

          Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

          Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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            The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

            Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

            But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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            Summation

            Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

            Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

            Reference

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