Thriving in the New Normal//

How to Communicate Effectively When Emotions Are Running High

Keeping your cool — and making sure you’re heard — in heated situations is possible with these smart tips.

Alissa Kumarova/ Shutterstock
Alissa Kumarova/ Shutterstock

When emotions like anxiety, frustration, sadness or even anger run high — not uncommon during these times — communicating effectively can feel more challenging. But being thoughtful about the words we use and our delivery is critical. It can help us keep our relationships healthy and allow us to work through problems and find solutions.

We asked our Thrive community to share their best tips for communicating effectively when emotions are running high. Which of these will you try?

Count to 10 before responding

“When emotions run high, I take a moment to breathe and count to ten before I say anything. When emotions run high, we tend to already start formulating our response while the other person is speaking, so we cut off listening, and can easily slip into defensive and reactive behaviors. If we connect with our breath, even if just for ten seconds, we give ourselves the opportunity to have compassion and understanding, instead of reacting from a place of feeling attacked. Tension is running at an all time high during this pandemic, and we do not know what someone might be going through. We do have the ability to show compassion and listen.” 

—Georgina Miranda, coach and CEO of She Ventures, Denver, CO

Revisit the conversation later

“In a heated conversation, I respond, ‘Thank you. I’d like to think about this and respond later today.’ I find that when I quit taking it personally, I can take my emotional reaction out of the picture.”

—Nanette Wiser, writer, Tampa Bay, FL

Pause to consider your intention

“To communicate effectively when my emotions are running high, I ask myself, ‘What is my intention for this communication?’  I stop for a few seconds and think about why I need to say what I want to say, and what I want to achieve in the conversation. Starting with intention calms me down and helps me think more clearly about the situation. Sometimes, I decide I really don’t have anything constructive to communicate. Sometimes, I decide to adjust my tone to be more respectful of the other person.”

—Donna Peters, career coach, podcast host, lecturer, Atlanta, GA

Remind yourself it’s not about you

“As someone who personally struggles with anxiety, I sometimes find myself reacting in a way that’s out of character. Something I like to keep in mind when someone is communicating in a way that’s irrational or aggressive is, ‘This is not about me.’ As soon as I make this mindset shift, I’m able to view the conversation in a different, more objective light. I’m much less likely to throw fuel on the fire and engage.”

—Peg Sadie, psychotherapist and self-care coach, Atlanta, GA

Listen to a song you love

“When it’s been a tough day with virtual meetings and I have tired eyes and ears from looking at a screen and earbuds, it’s easy to respond aggressively. To shift my perspective, I jump on YouTube and play a song that calms me down, like ‘Friday I’m In Love’ by The Cure. After listening to one song, I get a breath of fresh air, and I’m back in business. My soul feels lighter, and my words are more positive.”

—Rudy Chavarria Jr., mentor, Diamond Bar, CA

Walk away

“In a high-tension situation, the best thing you can do is to have all parties walk away and cool down. Productive conversations do not happen with heightened emotions, but rather when you can confront them coolly. Stepping away will allow each person to better listen to and respond to the other party effectively, which is the goal anyway. It can be very hard to do, particularly if someone is passionate about what they are saying, but simply walking away can help you avoid poor decision-making in a heated conversation.”

—Channing Muller, marketing and PR consultant, Chattanooga, TN 

Pick up the phone

“When I read an email that gets under my skin, I immediately start typing a reply to get all of my emotions out, and then I walk away without hitting send. I get a cup of coffee, drink water, or phone a friend. Then, I call the sender of the email to have them further explain the email. Sometimes, we read into things that are not there, or their intentions were incorrectly portrayed in the email. I thank them for the clarification, and then go back to the email and respond more calmly. I sometimes have someone near me read the email for a fresh set of eyes. If the reader of the email is not offended by what I’ve written, I hit send.”

—Akilah W. Darden, president of The Darden Group, LLC, Indianapolis, IN

Try a breathing exercise

“When I find myself getting really worked up, I use a simple breathing technique which instantly calms my nerves. Take five deep breaths while counting to four as you inhale, and count to seven as you exhale. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response in your body.”

—Peg Sadie, psychotherapist and self-care coach, Atlanta, GA

What’s your best tip for communicating effectively when emotions are running high? Share with us in the comments.

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