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When Emotions Run High

Constructive Candor teaches that the most meaningful conversations do not come from people delivering messages to one another. In fact, it’s just the opposite. True meaning comes from liberating ourselves from our desire to speak and, instead, learning to listen by inviting others to speak their truth.

Emotions are high right now. We’re frustrated, we’re nervous, and most potent of all – we don’t know what’s going to happen next. But think about the last time you encountered someone feeling any sort of strong emotion – how did you react? All my years of doing this work, let alone tons of psychological research reveal one idea better than the rest. With rare exception, demonstrating empathy will be the healthiest and most productive response for you, and for the other individuals you’re dealing with. In the calm of day, virtually no one disputes this.

And yet, the visceral realities come at you. Voices may begin to elevate, facial expressions send unmistakable signals that create discomfort and plain old fear of what may happen next.

Imagine though that you were able to choose a better path for the conversation to take from there.

Well, it’s not imaginary.

You simply can.

Regardless, by the way, of what choices anyone else is making.

The next time you find yourself in the visceral, I invite you to use two talk-shifting practices from my Constructive Candor framework:

1) Pause and breathe in silence. As awkward as it will feel at first, controlling the sound with a pause will shift the entire tenor of the conversation. Devote even a few seconds to allow things to potentially shift and settle.

2) Ask a “high road” question. Questions, followed by genuine listening, can quickly alter the feeling in the room. In a piqued moment, moving the conversation “up” with a question that can speak to something bigger can be very powerful. For example: “ While disagreement is easy here, where might we agree?”

However, so as not to be accused of being impractical, I acknowledge the choice is there to do what seems easier and happens more regularly. Argue to prove you’re right and they’re wrong, don’t cede control by letting them finish their sentences, and, while you’re at it, make double sure that you do most of the talking.

I leave you with one question about that choice: what are you hoping to achieve? No, really.