How to stay calm and be curious during difficult conversations
Do you find it hard to stay calm when you disagree with someone about one of your core values or beliefs?
When our values are challenged by someone, it’s common to feel strong emotions such as frustration, anger, or anxiety.
How you feel and respond can be influenced by things like your past experiences, personality, how well you know the other person, or where you are.
While it can be tempting to argue about who is ‘right’, this often results in a lack of listening to each other and may end in conflict and frustration.
Practicing ‘curious listening’ can help to remove judgement and allow room for genuine connection and understanding with the other person. Listening doesn’t mean you agree with them, or that you give up your views and feelings. However, it can open the door for a respectful conversation about why each person holds the views they do, and this can be key to finding ways to move forwards together.
In order to do this, it’s important that we feel respected, and emotionally and physically safe, and that we can leave the conversation at any time if this changes.
We share some tips below to help you decide whether to have the conversation, and how to remain calm and curious if you do. *
Should you have the conversation?
Start by asking yourself one or more of the following questions:
If the answer is no, that’s okay.
You can excuse yourself from the conversation by leaving the space or by letting the person know, clearly and respectfully, that you don’t want to talk about this topic right now.
If you’re not in the right space to have the conversation, it’s better to postpone it than to continue because you feel like you can’t say no.
- learning something new
- gaining a better understanding of the beliefs behind a particular opinion
- strengthening your relationship with this person
- supporting respectful conversations in your community.
- feeling bad or uneasy afterwards or other mental health impacts
- the risk of conflict escalating
- the other person not approaching the conversation with the same curiosity-focused approach as you.
- do you have enough time to listen?
- are you at work?
4 tips to stay calm and curious
Focus on listening to their life experiences and what has shaped what they hold to be true, important, and valuable.
Try to be relaxed with a neutral body posture, to convey that you are available, approachable and to avoid appearing defensive or aggressive.
If strong feelings come up, take some deep breaths, and ‘ground’ yourself by focusing on physical sensations such as your feet on the floor.
It’s also okay to ‘agree to disagree’ and end the conversation at any time if it’s not going well or you feel overwhelmed.
- ‘Can you tell me more about...?’
- ‘How do you feel about...?’
- ‘What I’m hearing/understanding is that you... Is that correct?’
When we listen with genuine curiosity to other people’s viewpoints and experiences, we simply allow space to learn from one another and to build respectful relationships in our communities.
* Please note: This advice is not applicable to people in high-conflict situations, including when there is a risk of violence.
I need help now
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, phone emergency services on 000 (triple zero).
For 24/7 crisis support, phone:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- SuicideLine Victoria on 1300 651 251
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
- MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
This post does not constitute professional advice. It is for informational purposes only.