How to Have Difficult Conversations Without Crying

Want to become more effective in the difficult conversations in your life? Sometimes our conversations don’t play out that well, run off the rails, and people leave feeling demoralized or belittled. We know what it’s like to walk away from a conversation that we are still carrying hours, days, or even years later. That is why we’ve created this FREE resource entitled 15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue  It will help you start to navigate even the most challenging discussions. Click here to download the guide now!

It’s not personal—it’s business…

How often in our professional lives are we told this? If not directly, how often is it implied?

Like the old adage, There is no crying in accounting, the pressure to disconnect our emotions from our business acumen still lurks around many office boardrooms.

Too often there is a worldview that states, there is no emotion in business. Reality check—if we are talking about our career, our livelihood and passion, there is going to be emotion related to it.

If you are like most professionals I’ve encountered, at some point in your career you have been confronted with the dilemma of navigating through varied emotional responses on the job—especially in the context of a difficult conversation.

By nature, difficult conversations are difficult. By definition, difficult conversations involve risk and negative emotion.

One of the most powerful negative emotions to show up in a difficult conversation is hurt—especially if you are feeling risk in the conversation.

Let’s use an example that most people can relate to—a performance review.

When you are in a position to have someone evaluate and give input into how you are doing, there is always the potential that they will say something that hurts. And as for risk—let’s be honest, a very pointed review can cost a lot more than your pride. You can feel like your livelihood is on the line. Don’t be surprised by an emotional response—even tears. They are needed.

What are emotions and where do they come from?

When you understand what emotions are, and where they come from—you will want to make room for them.

Emotions help us process life.

They are hard-wired within us to help us process the things that are happening around us.

When really good things happen around us—we experience joy and excitement to help us process it. 

When really bad things happen, sadness or grief help us process the loss or trauma of what is happening.

Emotions are doorways to data points and puzzle pieces.

Emotions give us insight into what we are really thinking or believing about a situation.

It is important to remember that it is not what happens to us that causes an emotional response—it is what we believe about what happens to us.

Let’s use the example of death. 

When someone close to us dies, it isn’t the death that makes us grieve—it is the loss of that connection. We miss the relationship and mourn it’s absence deeply.

If someone we know passes away, and we didn’t like them very much, or they negatively impacted our life—there may be the feeling of joy or relief at their death.

The emotion doesn’t come from the event. It comes from what we believe about the event.

One of the goals in difficult conversations is to collect informational puzzle pieces. Not only to bring everything to the table—but to determine what the real issues are.

Clarifying emotions and determining the beliefs behind those emotions help us gain insight into critical puzzle pieces needed for the conversation. It is important to get to those data points!

Emotions help us process, but they were not designed to lead.

When you are in extreme hurt, extreme grief, even extreme joy—be careful about the decisions you make.

It is easy in moments of extreme emotion to let your feelings take over.  Don’t let them lead.

Emotions are housed in your brain’s limbic system. And because our limbic system lags behind our neocortex (the analytical center of the brain)—simply put, our emotions don’t do decisions well.

With that in mind…

Don’t let emotions lead your difficult conversations, but do let them into the difficult conversation.

One of the key steps to having successful difficult conversations is tied to our ability to manage our emotion. Often times, however, we think that managing our emotion is done by repressing or holding it back.

As we have already discussed, managing our emotion is not withholding it—but simply making room for the emotion without allowing it to drive the conversation.

Unexpressed emotion will build and grow in intensity. 

When that tear forms or your bottom lip starts to quiver, you may think to yourself—I don’t want to share how I am feeling right now. I am afraid of crying in front of my colleague or supervisor. If I express this—it is just going to open the floodgates.

That is how it feels to us, but in reality—the exact opposite is true. The more you try to stuff the emotion, the more likely it is to explode in an unhelpful way later.

Expressing the emotion will actually help dissipate the energy around it.

Get your feelings on the table and you’ll find that there is a great deal less emotional energy around it. Keep it inside, and you are going to find that it just keeps growing.

If your mindset or value when going into a business conversation is to withhold all emotion, you are cutting off valuable data points.

Let’s go back to the example of performance reviews. The individuals giving difficult feedback are not off the hook. The same principles apply.

So often supervisors stop the review or point of feedback as soon as emotion is expressed. They have the viewpoint that the emotion signifies that the employee is not in a place to receive the input—so they stop the difficult conversation.

Stopping the difficult conversation will not help.

Let your employees express their emotion. Maybe they need a minute to take a break and collect themselves, but pick the conversation back up and follow through with that point of feedback.

Emotion is an important part of business because it is an important part of how people are wired. You want to create an environment in business where people are nurtured and honored.

Remember, on the other side of the emotion are data points that are really helpful. If someone appears agitated or hurt—ask them to help you understand why they are feeling that way. Whether you agree with it or not isn’t the point. You want to make room for it because we have the goal of getting those puzzle pieces on the table.

So many companies spend so much money in order to build their workforce.

Recognize that people are emotional at times and make room for that. Reflect emotion. Make room for emotion. Honor emotion.

The purpose of a difficult conversation is to hear one another. Many times the emotions involved in those conversations are key to unlocking the real issues at hand. You won’t get to the data points you need to solve the problem without receiving or expressing emotion.

There is crying in business and there is crying in difficult conversations. That isn’t a bad thing—instead, it is the helpful reality of our human condition.

These are just a few insights that will help you navigate those critical conversations in your life and career, but there’s so much more.

There are powerful tools that can really help you become more effective, and we at Ember Learning are here to help. With over 25 years of professional consulting in top businesses around the country, we want to share some of our top insights with you.

Download our FREE PDF “15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue” now!

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