A film with Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers is slated for release next year. The movie chronicles the account of a reporter, Tom Junod, whose life significantly changed after profiling Fred Rogers for a story in Esquire in 1998. Rogers, of Mister Rogers Neighborhood fame once said, "There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person." Rogers was a trailblazer in many ways, illuminating us all -- young and old -- on emotional self-regulation and resilience. As Rogers' quote suggests, life is a reflection of your interactions and quality of your relationships, and it is important to take stock of the impact you wish to have on others, and communication style plays a defining role.
In our high-octane world, one of the most valued skills you can possess is the ability to stay calm during an emotionally charged conversation. You may not always be able to control the circumstances that trigger your stress response, but you can certainly influence how you respond when under pressure. We all rely on certain behaviors, tactics and coping mechanisms to manage emotions -- and some behaviors are far more emotionally intelligent than others. Many times our stress response is founded on longstanding habits that are not constructive.
There are a number of practices that can help you identify your default stress responses, develop emotional resilience and expand your options for self-regulation. When practiced routinely the following suggestions will help you deal with adversity in a more positive, healthy manner. Self-regulation does not mean giving in to others or ignoring your personal needs and wishes -- it is about balancing emotions and navigating conversations with enhanced emotional intelligence.
Meditation before mediation.
I am a huge advocate of mindfulness meditation. The benefits of a regular mindfulness meditation practice are wide-ranging -- including increased capacity for self-awareness. When preparing for a tense meeting or conversation, a few minutes of slow, mindful breathing and meditation (preferably in a low-light room) allows you to process distracting thoughts and feelings as they arise, and to decrease their intensity.
It's not about you.
A greater level of self-awareness allows you to step back and observe a conflict or hostile situation and view the bigger picture. We all have unique perspectives and opinions that are projected onto every situation. You will settle into calmer waters when you try not to take things too personally. Most likely you will discover that a situation was never about you to begin with.
Don't React; Respond.
A knee-jerk reaction is almost always results in regret -- and negative consequences are usually the outcome. The antidote to untamed reactions in the heat of the moment is to practice a hard, fast mental "pause." This type of pause doesn't refer to a simple delay in speech -- but more of a conscientious internal moment to process what the other person has said. The purpose of the pause is to buy you time. It doesn't take long to halt the mind, and shift toward an intentional space where you can instruct your brain to dial itself down and plan your response. If your emotions are particularly intense, it may be helpful to excuse yourself to get some air or ask to continue the conversation once you have collected your thoughts.
Look for answers.
There is always more than one side to a story. Strive to understand a situation without judgment. Ask yourself questions such as, "What is really going on here? What would motivate this person to act this way? Was it what you said or did that drove them to make that disparaging remark?" When you are inquisitive -- instead of focusing on anger or a harsh reaction -- the truth will be revealed. You will then be in a more favorable position to resolve the situation with a more even temperament.
Confront conflict with compassion.
Retreating from confrontation when emotions run high is not always the best plan - nor is it always an option. Self-control is essential. When you have a calm and balanced emotional demeanor you can avoid dialogue that is counterproductive, and remain engaged with the person or group involved in the discussion. Try a little compassion. You don't have to agree with a person to empathize with them -- but you do need to listen, come to understand and consider their viewpoint.