Remain Calm: A How-To

As many of you know I have an “Ask a Question” button on my website. (Yes, I do read all your questions; yes, I do answer them.)

Recently, I received an email asking how to remain calm in difficult conversations. The author said that from time to time he gets so agitated that he forgets not only what he is saying, but what the other person said as well.

Given the heat (both literal and political) these days, I thought I would send along the advice I gave, as it seems like something we could all try:

  • The best thing to do is to slow the situation down as much as possible. One way to do this is to ask to take notes. So you might say, “Because this is an important conversation, I want to be sure nothing drops through the cracks; if it’s OK with you I am going to take notes.”
  • If you find you can’t remember what someone said, fill them in on what is occurring. This might sound like, “I’m sorry, may I ask you to repeat that? This is important and I want to be sure I understand.”
  • I would handle losing track of your own thoughts the same way; so you might say, “I’m sorry, I need to start over. This is important and I want to be sure I am choosing my words carefully.”
  • It’s also OK to ask to step away and continue the conversation later. You could do this by saying, “This is an important — and difficult — conversation and I want to be sure we have it when we are both at our best. Given that, can we plan to pick it up again at X time?
  • Finally, in any difficult situation, try to breathe through your nose: Breathing through your mouth tells your body you are in distress.

I hope these thoughts are helpful – stay cool!

Frances Jones Cole signature