"When we are emotionally reactive, we act against our best interests," notes therapist Jim Piekarski in his book, "Mastering Your Emotions with Your Spouse and Others." If you're worried about becoming emotional during a heated discussion, you already know that having a meltdown will do nothing to help the issue. Change your perspective and focus to help you calmly engage in potentially triggering conversations.
Go into the conversation with the idea that you can handle it, advises psychologist Eddie Selby in a January 2010 article in "Psychology Today." Consider other difficult problems you've been able to resolve successfully; these memories can give you peace of mind as you address the current issue. Remember that you can always choose how you act. Although you might not be able to control the tears rolling down your cheeks, you can decide not to slam doors, call the other person names or engage in other destructive behaviors.
Focus on the Other Person
Avoid initiating a discussion with a statement such as, "You really hurt me and I feel awful." Starting this way avoids laying groundwork that might help you better manage your emotions. Focus instead on the behavior that hurt your feelings. For example, you might say, "The last three times I've asked you to accompany me to a party at work, you haven't wanted to go. I feel unsupported when I have to go alone." Listen carefully to the person's explanation and the feelings she has about the situation. Focusing on the other person's feelings takes the focus off yours -- giving you greater emotional stability.
If you tell someone, "When you flirt with other women in front of me, it makes me feel less valued," recognize that the person you are communicating with may get defensive. He may justify his behavior or even blame you for it, saying, "Well, if you were more fun to be with, then I wouldn't need to talk to other women." This is a self-protective mechanism on his part; refuse to get sucked into an off-topic argument. If the person is unable to acknowledge your hurt feelings, accept that he might not be able to take responsibility for his actions at this time. This has nothing to do with you, so strive not to take this behavior personally. If you feel yourself losing control, literally distance yourself by taking a time-out from the discussion.
Change the Focus
In some environments, it's detrimental to focus on feelings. Rather, be rational, and when emotions arise, figure out what triggers those feelings, advises Anne Kreamer, author of "It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace." You can convey your displeasure with a situation without bringing your feelings into it. For example, if your supervisor has given you the least desirable shifts for the past two months, stick to the facts and say, "I've closed the restaurant for the past two months. I'd like to work an earlier shift at least half of the time I am here. What can I do to make that happen?" Avoid saying that you feel tired, put upon or discriminated against, these expressing feelings will not change the situation. The less emotional you are, the calmer you feel, giving you a better chance of getting the results you want.
- Psychology Today: You Are the Master of Your Emotions
- Mastering Your Emotions with Your Spouse and Others; Jim Piekarski
- It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace; Anne Kreamer
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.