How to keep emotions under control in confrontational situations

While working as an Assistant and in the early days of running Practically Perfect PA, if I could avoid confrontation, I would.

It didn’t serve me well. Why? Because when I did have to speak to someone about a difficult subject, I struggled to keep my emotions under control. I had avoided conflict so much that I wasn’t used to dealing with it when stressful things did occur! Like anything, keeping emotions under control in confrontational takes practice.

That is something I have learned over the last few years. You have to practice dealing with confrontation, and the more you practice, the easier it gets.

So I want to share with you today some of the resources and methods that have taught me how to keep emotions under control in confrontational situations.


It is incredible how different you feel after taking a big breath. It gives you a second to connect with your body and get outside of your head. When I feel like my emotions might spill over or I can’t focus, breathing helps. This session with Emily Green will help you reconnect with yourself. I listen to it when I know I am going to have a challenging conversation with someone.

What do you want the outcome to be from this conversation? 

Before starting the conversation, make a quick list of the positive outcomes you hope will come out of the conversation. Try to keep them positive and about you, not the other person. When you are feeling overwhelmed, look at the list. Are you off track? Bring it back to the outcomes you are hoping to achieve. If the outcomes are not going to happen, take a break. Process your emotions and start again later. The book Emotional Agility by Susan David goes into greater detail.

Go into the conversation with an action plan

I found putting a small list of points that I want to cover helps, and I will share this with the other person so they don’t feel blindsided during the conversation. Preparation helps me feel confident.

Listen carefully

When I am highly emotional, I am often triggered by the tone or delivery of what someone is saying to me rather than what they are saying. I react to their emotion rather than the content of their words. So I try very hard to ignore the tone and concentrate on their words. The two don’t often match, but the content is much more important than the delivery.

Put the groundwork in 

If you have not spent time thinking about the confrontational conversation or are not emotionally ready to start the conversation, don’t have the conversation. Reschedule or ask for more time. If you are not emotionally ready at the start, it isn’t going to serve you well. Feeling ready to start a difficult conversation will help enormously.

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