Sometimes I am just so completely right. And yet, the world doesn't notice. That's when it's hardest for me to stay cool under pressure. And that's when I'm most likely to blow it-and blow my top. Identify? And yet, these touchy moments are the times when I most need to find a way to stay calm, cool, and collected.
Of course, developing better conflict resolution and listening skills is no easy task. After all, Mother Nature herself is conspiring against every one of us, shutting down blood to the brain, for heaven's sake, when we're in a tense situation. We need that blood running to our muscles instead, so we can fight for our lives, after all. Or not.
Still, I can say that I'm better than I used to be. Most of the time, I manage to pull away from my natural response, take a deep breath, and try for that more panoramic view of the situation. You know, the one where you see some of the other person's point of view, at least. And you remember to ask yourself, "Why would a smart, reasonable person have this completely bone-headed opinion?" before you say anything out loud.
I also have experience working on my side. I've had a bunch of tough conversations over the past 10 years or so, so I've gotten to try good strategies and bad ones and see how they worked. Good: Focus on what I'm doing and feeling and on how others' concrete behaviors affect their fellow team members and our relationship. Bad: Make negative judgements about others' traits or behaviors.
The toughest lesson is that you can never change anyone else. But if you can come to grips with that and find ways to communicate effectively, you can change your relationship and the kinds of conversations you have. That other person may never change, but you can. And if you do, the relationship will change.
You'll find some great advice on keeping your cool when you face a cranky client from communications expert and consultant Debbie Allaben Gair. And there are lots of good books that talk about how to manage tough interactions. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior (McGraw-Hill, 2005), for example. But the most critical thing is to keep practicing. If we can all do that, the tough conversations are bound to get better.