Deflating dread

What difficult conversation are you avoiding? How is your body responding to the thought of it? More than the fear of not knowing what to say is the physical sensation of dread that blocks effective engagement. If you’re worried about what to say, don’t. When you use the conversational framework I wrote about in Keep the Door Open, trust your intuition and compassion that the content will align with the context.

Dread often prevents a much-needed conversation from happening in a timely manner which, in turn, comes full-circle to exacerbate the initial trepidation. Unnecessary dread holds many necessary conversations and relationships ransom.

Here’s the truth about breaking this useless cycle: When you ease through the “goo” and physical discomfort of dread, it frees up your capacity to be creative, resilient, empathetic, and resourceful.    A physical or mental cue to pause and refocus during a high-stakes conversation can be the key to build greater trust, to strengthen existing connections, and to bolster new ones.

One calming cue with immediate effect is to exhale slowly… slooowly; specifically, gently push out even more air from your lungs after a normal exhalation, without letting your shoulders sag. Imagine the air sacs in your lungs are themselves exhaling, effortlessly and calmly.

I first caught myself doing this during a particularly challenging situation where I couldn’t walk it off, hang up, or otherwise do another physical activity to dispel what I was experiencing at the time. The stakes were high – I had to get through the “goo” to ensure a successful outcome. All went well in the end. Reflecting on this later (reflection is a vital “seismic” leadership practice!), I dissected what had happened.

A physical or mental cue to pause and re-centre oneself, such as exhaling slowly and fully, achieves the following benefits:

  • A moment’s pause creates verbal space which stops you from speaking or reacting quickly without forethought;
  • Buys precious extra seconds to refocus and regain some perspective;
  • Gives you time to remember the framework that keeps the conversational door open;
  • Potentially negative impulses get to deflate and lose their proverbial “hot air”.

You may have a different physical or mental cue that creates conversational space. Go with what is most intuitive for you. The upshot is that, on the outside, you come across as calm, professional, and insightful. The double upshot is that you cultivate internal calm, professionalism, and insight.