Whether it’s a meeting at work or a family dynamic that conjures up concern around the possibility of clashes, here are five effective ways you can proactively manage tough conversations and situations
1. Assume the best
It’s easy to talk ourselves into fearing a situation, and expecting the worst, even when we have no evidence that things will play out as we imagine. However, by catastrophising and anticipating conflict we’re telling ourselves that we’re about to be in danger, and our mind and body will then react as if that is true.
Intercept anticipatory negative thoughts as they enter your mind by asking yourself: ‘Do I know this to be true?’ If the answer is no, ask yourself how you would like the conversation or event to play out instead.
2. Set intentions
You can’t manage how other people will communicate or react, but you can present yourself in a way that you are proud of. By writing down how you will behave and communicate, you’re setting positive intentions that will help you manage your interactions. Read through your intentions again before your meet-up, so they’re fresh in your mind.
3. Put in a pause
If you believe that the situation is going south, you don’t have to passively slide down the slippery route to conflict! Putting a pause in the middle of proceedings can really help.
This is situation dependent, but if things feel like they’re escalating into unproductive territory, simply say: “I really want to continue this conversation. I just need to go to the bathroom/grab some water/blow my nose, and when I get back, let’s talk about this further.”
While you’re away from the discussion, slow your breathing down, making each exhale longer than the inhale, and remember the intentions you’ve set for yourself. When you re-enter the discussion, thank the person for waiting for you – hopefully, tension will have dissipated and tempers will calm.
4. Stay grounded
If verbal conflict should arise, physically ground yourself by placing both feet flat on the floor, and by keeping your breathing steady. Avoid interrupting the other person, and take a breath before you speak, both of which can help to prevent the conversation from escalating into a rally of positional points.
If you believe that the situation cannot be rectified at that moment, say so, and be clear about how you wish to be treated and proceed. This doesn’t have to be combative. You could try: “It seems that we disagree on this. I respect you, and I think it would be great for us both to have some time to think about what we’ve shared. Shall we give each other a bit of time and space to process the discussion, and chat again in a couple of days?”
5. You’re safe and loved
Conflict, or even the anticipation of conflict, can make us feel shaky and off-centre. Take some time to ‘come down’ after your interaction. If you can, take a walk outdoors and use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method – focus on five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Take some time to meditate, or use an online breathwork session to calm your overall state. Know that you are safe and loved.