94: [Solo] How to control your emotions during critical conversations and negotiations on The TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

Ep094 Solo How to Control Your Emotions during Critical Conversations and Negotiations on TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

Have you ever had an emotional outburst during a really critical conversation? Or felt like you’re on the verge of losing control of your emotions?

When the stakes are high and you have a vested interest in the outcome of a conversation, it’s actually very common to become emotional. These kinds of conversations are especially difficult because they involve conflict or differing perspectives.

In today’s solo episode on the TalentGrow Show, I will teach you how to develop greater self-awareness to catch your emotions when they first begin to arrive on the scene. Then, I'll share four science-backed techniques for controlling your emotions during critical conversations and negotiations. Take a listen now and share with those who could also benefit from learning this important life and business skill!


Hey, hey, welcome back TalentGrowers. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. In today’s solo episode, I will teach you four science-backed techniques for controlling your emotions during critical conversations and negotiations.

I was just working with several groups of emerging leaders in Atlanta for one of my clients, coaching them on the art of guiding critical conversations successfully. One of them shared a story of how she recently went in to an executive’s office to discuss her desire to transition onto a different project than the one she was currently on. When the executive pushed back a little bit, this young leader said she began to cry. She asked me what she could do to prevent that kind of emotional outburst from recurring.

I taught the group some emotional regulation techniques. At the end of the full-day workshop, this learner thanked me for the insights and another one came up and asked if I already had a podcast episode about this topic.

Well, I did not… He encouraged me to create one. Hmmm…

Then, a week later, I was working in the DC suburbs with a different client organization and guiding a group of leaders on how to negotiate with more confidence, and a similar question came up: How do I manage my own emotions to ensure they don’t get out of control?

This happens to everyone at one point or another – we get too emotional during an important conversation

This is actually a very common challenge for most humans in both professional and personal conversations where the stakes are high, you have a lot of skin in the game, and a vested interest in the outcomes. And a lot of times these kinds of conversations are especially difficult because they typically involve some kind of conflict or disagreement or differing perspectives.

I’ve addressed this in a previous blog post titled 3 research-based tricks to help control emotions during critical conversations but given that specific request, and given how challenging this is for so many, I thought I’d create this episode and expand on and add to what I’ve written. This is very practical advice based on research from the world of neuroscience and cognitive science and it can really help you regulate your emotions and keep (or regain) your control during these important and charged conversations.

Are you ready? Let’s get to it.

First develop emotional self-awareness. Then develop emotional self-management

The key to not reacting emotionally in critical conversations is to learn first to become more aware of our emotional state and notice our emotions sooner than once they’ve brewed for a while. Then, we are better able to successfully regulate our emotions to stay in control or regain it.

How well-aware are you when your emotions are beginning to brew?

Emotions are important signals from our limbic system designed to alert us to potential threats and rewards. I’ve described this process in much more detail in a vlog post titled Can You "Leave Your Emotions at the Door?" The answer to that question is definitely NO. I’ll link to it in the shownotes so you can check it out.

As I described in another blog post titled Harness the power of your emotional intelligence!, you have to “learn to notice what emotions you're experiencing, and ideally, learn to notice them when they're still what I call "baby emotions" -- low intensity versions of the emotion. That way, when 'angry' starts to bubble up, and it's still really just 'irked' or 'annoyed', you will be much better able to manage it than if you wait for it to boil over into full-on 'rage'. Your body actually gives you signs. You have to learn to listen to them.”

What might be some of those signs? They are different for each one of us, so you have to pay close attention to your own body, but often they include things like increased heart rate, quickening breath, feeling flushed or hot in your ears or face or neck, or a tightening of the jaw or a knot in the pit of your stomach. The more you learn to read your personal signs, the better your ability to stay in control or regain control with the emotional regulation techniques I want to share with you today. What are some of your signs? I’d love to hear your input in the comments section.

4 emotional regulation strategies for critical conversations

Today, I want to share four strategies to help you regulate your emotions during critical conversations.

First, try to take a breath or take a break. You might also try the technique of labeling your emotions. Many people find reframing to be a great help. And finally, I’ll describe how you can be present and mindful as an emotional regulation approach. Let’s dive into a bit more detail about each of these:

1. Take a breath or take a break

When you feel those early-bird signs of an emotional reaction that you don’t think will be helpful to you, such as anger, fear, frustration, or disgust, you can take some deep breaths to help your body stay calm or regain its calm. Sometimes, you need a bit more time so it’s perfectly acceptable in many situations to request a short break. Even a five minute break can help you get enough distance from the situation to get back to neutral so you can stay in control of your emotions.

But if your emotions have become quite intense, it might mean that you need to take a longer break – say something like, “this is a really important conversation for us, I would like to ask if we can pick it back up tomorrow morning.” You don’t have to get into too much detail (at least not initially) about your emotions but it allows you to come back to the conversation after you’ve been able to cool down.

2. Label them.

Some amazing insights from research say that simply putting our feelings into words can help reduce their intensity. The act of searching and finding the right word to identify an emotional sensation actually engages the brain’s ‘braking system’ and dampens the limbic system (the emotional reaction center of the brain).

So, as we experience a negative emotional reaction while preparing for a critical conversation, we could say the name of the feeling we’re experiencing to actually cause it to cool down.

If we experience a strong emotional reaction during the conversation, we have two options with regard to labeling: Either we could label the emotion to ourselves, internally (i.e., silently). Or, if we think it is appropriate for the context and person, we could choose to name our emotion out loud by bringing it into our conversation.

For example, we might say, “I’m feeling frustrated that you’ve submitted your report late the last three times because it caused me to be late with my part of the report, too.” We should experience a reduction in the intensity of the emotion as a result of naming it. Isn’t that amazing?

3. Reappraise them.

Reappraising our emotions means reframing them: finding a different, more positive perspective to describe the situation. Reappraisal also activates the brain’s ‘braking system’.

But wait, there’s more: studies show that reappraising can actually cause us to have more positive emotions and less negative emotions overall, and to report having a generally higher level of well-being!

A great method for reappraising our emotions, introduced by Dr. Martin Seligman (the “Father of Positive Psychology”), is the ABCDE method. There’s a great article I’ve found that described this method nicely (here). In short, the ABCDE stands for Adversity | Beliefs | Consequences | Dispute | Energy. The best approach is to write this down.

Adversity just means you describe the situation – who, what, when, and where.

Beliefs means you describe what your internal narrator is saying to you during the situation, as verbatim as possible.

Consequences means you write down what the consequences of your beliefs were – what did you feel and do? Be as specific as possible with the emotions you felt and your reactions.

Then, you need to dispute these beliefs – you need to write down ways you were wrong to have those beliefs using evidence if you can think of it or examples of alternative ways to explain the situation from a more positive or accurate vantage point.

Finally, write down how your dispute thinking has changed your energy – did your mood shift or did you change your behavior?

4. Be present.

I’ve written and podcasted about the growing evidence of the importance of mindfulness (all the way back in episode 1) – being fully present in the moment.

We can take advantage of this helpful practice to reduce our emotional reaction to our own emotions during critical conversations.

We all have an internal ‘narrator’ – a part of our brain that tells us what’s happening and what it means. But we can work to ‘turn off’ this narrator and just try to be present in the moment when we experience a negative emotional reaction.

When we can become more present and mindful in the moment, we get more ‘real time’ data to help improve our ability to make good decisions. By being mindful and present, we Increase both our awareness of external and internal data (about our own mental state) – so we can make smarter choices about what actions to take and have quicker access to more or other emotional regulation techniques.

We even free ourselves up to become empathetic to the other person in the situation and see things from their perspective, something that can help us get new insights about the situation and will definitely help us connect better with them.

There’s tons more information out there now about this topic of emotional regulation, and more studies are being published. But I hope that these four actionable methods can help you feel more in control during those difficult but critically important conversations in your professional and personal life, including negotiations, and get the results you desire while keeping your relationship trust in tact.

Your turn:

  1. What do you think of this approach? Will you try it? And if you have tried it, what were your results? Comment below!
  2. Share this if you found it valuable. I find that a LOT of people have this kind of challenge and are not sure how to deal with it. Let’s help more people, together!
  3. Ask me a question or tell me a topic that you would like me to cover in a future episode of the TalentGrow Show. I make this podcast to serve you – so please don’t be shy! 

Thank you for listening. I appreciate your time and your interest, and I hope that this helps you. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and this has been another episode of the TalentGrow Show. Until the next time, make today great.

About Halelly Azulay

Have we met? I'm Halelly Azulay. I'm an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in leadership, communication skills, and emotional intelligence. I am the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. My books, workshops and retreats build on my 20+ years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.

I am the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company focused on developing leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.

People hire me to speak at conferences and meetings and to facilitate leadership workshops, but what I love most is to help fast growing organizations create a leadership development strategy and approach.

I'm a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. I was described as a “Leadership Development Guru” by TD Magazine. I blog, publish a leadership podcast (um, hello?!), and have a popular free weekly subscription newsletter – so you should definitely sign up at www.tinyurl.com/talentgrow

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