Other people perceive your negative emotions before the message. Source: Unsplash/charlesdeluvio

Debra Roberts

How to have hard conversations effectively when emotions are running high

Debra Roberts
4 minute Read

Do you say whatever is on your mind without giving it much thought? Do you express the emotions you’re feeling, including anger and frustration, in whatever way those feelings arise in that moment?

It makes sense. You want to communicate something you are thinking or feeling to another person or group of people. So why couch it? Why not just say it like it is? In theory, we should be able to express ourselves in any way that feels good to us and gets our point across. But have you noticed that when you do let loose and say whatever you want, however you want — whether it’s hurtful or filled with anger and frustration — you don’t get the result you want? More than likely, the conversation ends in an argument because the other person responds with the same level of intensity and emotion that you’ve expressed.

Don’t let your emotions hijack your message. People respond to how we make them feel. When you start an intense conversation full of emotion, the recipient is not listening to the message. Instead, they have an emotional reaction to the intense feelings you are projecting. The subject you are trying to address becomes less important to the other person than dealing with and responding to your intensity or emotional state.

Sometimes, they might be caught off-guard by the intensity of your emotions but are quickly able to refocus and start listening. But more likely, they will have a strong reaction to how you spoke to them. I like to say they become “married to that feeling,” because it will be their primary takeaway from the conversation. The other person’s initial reaction is always based on how you come across to them and has nothing to do with the message you are trying to convey. For example, if you raise your voice, they might get angry or feel turned off, scared, uncomfortable, stupid, unappreciated, or frustrated. Everyone reacts differently, but when you don’t speak to someone in a way that feels respectful, they will react based on their interpretation of your emotional state and how they feel in response.

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