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Keeping Your Cool in Conversation: Attend to Your Internal Signals

Have you ever been in the trenches of a challenging and emotional conversation, where you find yourself fighting feelings of nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath or even numbness? Your heart begins to race, your throat constricts and the conversation seems to be moving so quickly you can’t even attend to these physiological changes. You say things or behave in a manner that you end up regretting later as the situation becomes increasingly problematic.


After the conversation ends, these ‘signals’ may temporarily subside, however each time you think about the situation, they re-emerge taking you by surprise. They appear while you are in the shower, driving to the grocery store, in meetings, or as you are drifting off to sleep. This physiological feedback tells us we are triggered, bothered, or uncomfortable with something that occurred in the conversation. These signals can be intrusive, uncomfortable and if left unattended, they can grow to take up all the head space we have to offer. If honed, these signals can help us settle, attend to ourselves and the other party, and engage in a productive conversation.


Tips for honing and using your internal signals:

  • Build your internal awareness. Notice changes in your body. Do not fight these sensations. Notice them even in everyday interactions- traffic jams, interactions with coworkers, dinner conversations with your partner or a friend, or even reactions towards inanimate objects.

  • Look for the patterns! What symptoms do you most experience when you are angry, sad, frustrated, depressed embarrassed, shamed, etc? Where in your body do you tend to feel these symptoms?
  • When you notice the pattern emerging, breathe, straighten your posture and relax whatever part of your body where you notice the symptoms emerging.
  • Express! When in conflict, use this information to acknowledge what experience you are having, and then to express your experience to the other party.
  • If you are unable to attend to or use your internal signals in the moment, don’t hesitate to go back to the conversation to address whatever is outstanding for you, including any behaviour you need to take responsibility for.


Your internal signals, when attended to, will keep you settled, grounded, and effective in challenging conversations. Try it out!