3 Ways to Handle Difficult Conversations Without Losing Your Cool

Have you ever been in a difficult conversation and you feel like yelling, kicking or screaming? It can be hard to keep your cool especially when emotions are running high on both sides.


Your blood pressure can soar, your palms sweat or your cheeks flush. Your brain gets bogged down with feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment, fear or shame.


We’ve all been there whether it’s a conversation we try to sweep under the carpet or it comes when we least expect it and we don’t know what to do.


No two situations are ever going to be alike. Practicing responses and how you’ll deal with these situations can help you keep your cool to effectively communicate and resolve any issues. But remember always use your best judgment.


Here are three techniques that can help you handle difficult conversations with your boss, colleague, friend or family member.


  1. Expressive writing. According to Tammy Lenski, conflict mediator, expressive writing helps the mind work less hard, which is crucial for a critical, difficult conversation.


Researcher and psychologist Hans Schroder came out with a recent study along with his colleagues Jason Moser and Andy  Henion to prove that expressive writing gives us an edge.


According to Moser “expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get “burnt-out” over, their worried minds working harder and hotter. This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a cooler head.”


Based on the research Lenski suggests doing the following to use expressive writing to your advantage:

  • Pick a quiet spot and do expressive writing right before you step into the difficult conversation.
  • Write for roughly 10 minutes and write freely about your thoughts and feelings, otherwise, you’re missing the point.
  • You can get rid of the writing. There is no need to hold onto it unless there is something constructive and useful in it for the upcoming conversation.



  1. Acknowledge responsibility and honor the other. Holly Weeks from Harvard Business School says this technique can be effective especially when you use it at the beginning of a conversation. The reason is that it immediately focuses attention without being aggravating, on the difficult things the speaker needs to say and the listener needs to hear. It honors all parties, the speaker, listener, the relationship and the speaker’s responsibility.


This can be especially effective in stressful conversations because it honors the other person. It can start off simply by saying, “I apologize for not being as open/honest/forthright with you as I wanted to be regarding fill-in-the-blank.


  1. Win them over by restating your intentions. Weeks calls this the clarification technique, and it’s a highly disarming one. It’s best used in situations where the other person has misinterpreted your intentions. Without having to psychoanalyze the other party in a difficult conversation you can diffuse it by restating your intentions with something like. “I can see how you took what I said the way you did, Mike. That wasn’t what I meant. Let’s go over this list again.”


By using this technique the conversation can go from confrontation to a point of agreement. It’s about understanding and hearing out the other person’s intentions and not arguing for your own.