Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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

    Trending in Brain

    1 How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential 2 Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics) 3 What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important? 4 How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person 5 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on March 30, 2020

    How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

    How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

    You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

    There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

    Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

    The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

    In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

    Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

    Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

    Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

    If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

    Advertising

    However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

    In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

    A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

    How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

    First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

    My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

    A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

    Advertising

    The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

    How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

    Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

    So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

    1. Performing Arts

    One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

    Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

    One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

    A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

    Advertising

    2. Visual Art

    Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

    Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

    Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

    3. Zone Out

    If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

    I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

    Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

    Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

    Advertising

    4. Practice Mindfulness

    The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

    Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

    You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

    Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

    Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

    Final Thoughts

    So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

    The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

    Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

    More Tips on Boosting Creativity

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next