Staying Calm During High Stakes Conversations

Routine conversations are easy. High stakes conversations have the potential to throw you off your game. The flood of emotions can prevent you from acting rationally, so you lose your way during important moments. Here are a few tips to stay even-keeled and to recover quickly.

Advance preparation:

  • Have a plan. My buddy who is a former Navy Top Gun pilot says “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” So very true! And yet your plan drives you to think the discussion through, clarifying your goals and giving you something to structure yourself around.

  • Visualize yourself as staying calm. If you think about your plan in advance, there are points in the conversation where you can predict you will get emotional. Visualize yourself staying calm in those moments. Really feel in your body the rise of emotion and then how you will center yourself in response.

Recover quickly if you get overheated:

  • Pause, breathe and mentally count to three. Breathing and counting is a clich√© because it works. It soothes the stress hormones flooding your brain and gives you just a moment to get centered.

  • Push your toes into the floor. This literally grounds you. It returns your attention to your body, and it helps you get centered.

  • Activate your empathy. If you’re upset, they are probably upset, too. Imagining how the other person feels helps you find common ground and helps give you some distance from your own feelings. You may not feel like it, but it will make you more effective. If you practice this during more routine conversations you’ll build your skill at this so you can use it during more difficult discussions.

After the conversation:

  • Debrief the conversation. Debriefing is the single most effective way you teach yourself. Write down or talk with a trusted colleague about how it went, what specifically you were trying to accomplish (content and relationship) and where you succeeded and where you didn’t. Jot down some notes about what you want to improve and then a few ideas that you will try next time to gain this improvement.

Do you have any tips you use to help you stay calm? I would love to hear about them!