We’ve all been neck-deep in the waters of emotional turbulence, whether we’re in a heated conversation, having a passive-aggressive quip thrown our way, or even being cut off in traffic. We all have triggers that flip our switch from relaxed to rattled.
When we’re in the thick of heightened emotion and overblown ego, it can be so blinding that the only way we think we can affect change is to fire back, defend ourselves, or even break the spirit of the other person to make a point. But trust me, this is one of the weakest and most powerless positions we could ever take.
If you’re a leader right now or a young person aspiring to be, let’s have a moment of honesty. Your rights, when you enter into leadership, do not get broader, they get much more narrow. You don’t have the option to fire back aimlessly, “express how you feel”, or vent on a whim anymore. When you engage in conversation, you have a responsibility to stay above the emotion, because the moment you abdicate your high-level view from above the forest and you get down in the weeds with the rest of the room is the moment the conversation is lost. The people have lost their leader and they’ve lost sight of their mission.
So, when you’re in a situation where emotions start to build, do this. Imagine that you’re looking out at sea as waves start rising and a storm starts to form. You know it’s going to be turbulent and you know you have to engage, but before you do, you have to decide on the form of transportation you’ll take.
Conveniently next to you and closest to the shore is a boat. It seems like the obvious choice, but not only will the boat put you smack dab in the middle of the storm, but its course will be at the mercy of every emotional wave, barely leaving you in control of arriving on the other side.
On the other hand, if you were to step back a few hundred feet, just offshore, you’d see a helicopter—the hybrid sort of helicopter that can make contact with both land and water. The helicopter has an element of detachment that ensures your trajectory will not be bound by the whims of the water, but it’s not so disconnected that you can’t dip down to engage, relate, and even rescue, if necessary.
Who do you suppose is the more respected and authoritative vessel in those situations?
Exactly. So, here’s five ways to be the helicopter instead of the boat:
1. Slow Your Breathing
The hot rush of blood to the head and racing heart rate can come on so fast in heightened situations. Your primitive brain takes over and tells you to either flee or fight your counterpart. Don’t do either of these! Before you do anything else, communicate back to your brain that you want to stay composed and positive. A good start to tempering this defence mechanism is to slow your breathing.
2. Sit Up Straight
There’s something about straightening your back and lifting your shoulders that also raises your eyebrows, turns your lips upward, and elevates the pitch of your voice. This poises you for positivity, so when it’s time to speak, you’ll naturally frame your points in a more positive light and your listener will be more receptive to what you’re saying.
3. Actively Listen with Engaging Body Language
Your listener is constantly picking up on nonverbal cues that tell them whether you’re actually processing what they’re saying or if your mind is reeling with the next points you want to make. Genuinely listen and stay physically active with body language that demonstrates your engagement. Maintain eye contact, nod your head, and mirror back the emotions they’re exuding to indicate that you’re understanding them.
4. Give a Gift Every Time You Speak
Each time the conversation comes back around to you, ease into the points you want to make by using empathetic lead-ins or verbal gifts. This could be phrases like “I completely understand where you’re coming from”, “I can definitely see how that would be frustrating”, or “You’re always really good at seeing those things. Here’s how I would approach that…”. This is a powerful disarming technique that keeps people connected and receptive in the midst of disagreement. And I think it goes without saying that those statements need to be genuine. That’s why the previous point on active listening is so important because you can find the positives to latch onto as they speak and use those as your transition points.
5. Keep the Ultimate Target in Your Crosshairs
It’s so easy to slip into the belief that the other person is your target. They’re not. There is always a larger mission and goal beyond the momentary tension. Maintain vision of that target and keep the conversation pointed in the direction of the ultimate goal.
Choosing the helicopter is choosing to stay above the turbulence so you can lead the tough conversations with a voice that is respected, impartial, and on a mission. When you’re present in this capacity, you become an elevated reference point that encourages people to constantly look up. And each time they do, they’re reminded that there’s more happening around them than the storm they’re in the middle of. They’re reminded that there’s a destination beyond this that we’re all working together to reach.
The leader that can embrace the tension of staying emotionally composed yet deeply connected is the most powerful kind of leader. It’s going to take some creativity and positivity to navigate within your narrower set of rights, but once you discover that these boundaries actually strengthen your effectiveness and rapport, it becomes one of the most rewarding ways to lead.