Silhouette of two businessmen arguing

As leaders, we like to believe that we have a strong grasp of emotional intelligence and relationship management skills.


However, when even a global head of hotel brands fails to recognize fundamental steps required for building rapport, or a director at a pharmaceutical company has a misunderstanding of what empathy really is, it demonstrates that we all can truly benefit from enhancing our emotional management capabilities.


This is particularly true in light of the increased levels of stress and sensitivity so many of us are experiencing currently, both in the workplace and at home.


Without the ability to manage the emotions involved in tense conversations, a leader will find it extremely challenging to maintain productive relationships and keep his or her team functioning optimally.


The following four techniques will help you manage emotions and achieve your relationship management goals.


Simple to learn and difficult to master - the key to these skills is practice.



1. Maintain Or Enhance Self‐Regard





To mitigate feelings such as defensiveness or anger in your conversational counterpart, it is important to maintain their self-esteem.


Suggested verbal responses:


  • Thank you for taking the time to meet.
  • I really appreciate your ability to…
  • I am grateful that you shared this.
  • You are being too hard on yourself… (restoration)
  • Great work on this project!


2. Respond Empathetically





Empathy is not about agreeing with your counterpart, it is about acknowledging their perspective and what they are feeling. This can go a long way towards helping someone maintain a productive emotional state. If someone does not feel understood, they are unlikely to be motivated to generate workable solutions to a problem.


Suggested verbal responses:


  • I can see why you felt that way.
  • Is that your feeling?
  • Are there other feelings?
  • I am so sorry…
  • This makes me so happy to hear…


3. Invite Participation





Asking for your counterpart’s perspective is an additional method of maintaining or enhancing their self-regard.


Suggested verbal responses:


  • I am eager to know what you think.
  • What is your view of this?
  • What am I missing?
  • Is there more about that?
  • What thoughts come to your mind on this?


4. Listen Mindfully





This requires you to be fully and actively engaged – not multi-tasking. Communicating this engagement through your body language will help show your care for the other person and keep tensions low. Your internal dialogue should be, “Listening… Listening…Listening.”


Suggested verbal responses:


  • So let me see if I got that. You said ____
  • You said ____. Did I capture that?
  • Is there more about that?
  • Sorry to stop you; I want to make sure I heard you.


For more comprehensive information and training related to emotional management in high-stakes, tense conversations, we invite you to attend the 4-week Meaningful Alignment virtual workshop series.


Meaningful Alignment is a program developed and facilitated by leadership experts Susan Steinbrecher and Dr. Robert Schaefer.


The program helps both individuals and teams to:


  • Have difficult conversations and not only achieve the goal, but create more trusting, connected relationships as a result
  • Address important yet sensitive and difficult issues with emotional composure and resilience
  • Successfully facilitate the emotions of others in the middle of difficult conversations


Register Now

About the Authors


Susan Steinbrecher is an internationally acclaimed businesswoman, executive coach, speaker, and licensed mediator.

Her expertise has positively impacted companies worldwide including BNSF Railway, Bank of America, Fresenius, Capital One, and CVS/Caremark.

She is the co-author of multiple business and leadership books, including Meaningful Alignment: Mastering Emotional Interactions at Work and in Life.


Dr. Robert Schaefer is an Organizational Development (OD) consultant, executive coach, leadership development expert, statistical analyst, research scholar, workshop facilitator, and training systems designer.

Over the course of his 21 year career he has helped achieve desired business results for many companies like BNSF Railway, Raising Cane’s, Dave and Busters, Seneca Gaming and Resorts, and Brinker International.

Dr. Schaefer is the co-author of Meaningful Alignment: Mastering Emotional Interactions at Work and in Life.



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