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Top Tips for Tough Moments

Five Tips to Keep Top of Mind for Tough Moments


Have you ever met one of those folks who seems to demonstrate “grace under pressure” or who is “cool as a cucumber” or seemingly never “gets ruffled”? Most of us haven’t quite mastered that, and many of us, though we may seem even keel on most days, have things that bring out behaviors or tones of voice or responses that seem a little more volatile and a little less “steady Eddy.” 

The thing is, though, that these moments when any one of us is a little more volatile than normal have the potential to prevent those around us from having good workdays. If you gently say, “Good morning, Sinikka”, and I respond with a gruff “Oh yeah, what’s so good about it?!?!?” I have the potential to adversely impact your day, which might have otherwise been just fine. Likewise, if I’m genuinely offering insights that I believe will help you, and you get defensive because you think I’m being critical, then we both have the potential to participate in a really tough conversation. 


So how about you? How well do you navigate through tough moments? 


What’s a “tough moment” you ask?


It’s any moment in which two or more people interact, in which one or more of them is not primed to be their best selves. 

  • Things like a stressful morning at home or a tough commute to the office can create distractions that cause tough moments. 
  • Things like unhappy customers, technology that’s not working, or impending deadlines can create pressure that causes tough moments. 
  • Being hangry or overtired or even just plain “done” with a situation can cause a tough moment. 
  • Coming out of a tough moment with someone else can cause us to carry that tough moment forward to the next conversation.
  • Tough moments can arrive pretty suddenly when people feel attacked or cornered or defensive or threatened in any way.
  • Tough moments surface when someone feels bad, like they’ve let someone down, or fearful of consequences from a mistake.


There are lots of reasons tough moments can occur, and just a handful of tips to keep top of mind for when they do.

First, remember to wrap any tough moment in effective communication.

Make sure you are practicing all of your good communication skills, knowing that communication is critical to your success, it’s harder than most of us want it to be, and it’s not about you – it’s always about the other person.

Second, make every intentional effort to make the situation safe.

Breathe deeply, count to 10, make sure the physical situation is not threatening or scary, make sure that your own body language is not in any way aggressive or threatening, and make sure you’re aware of their body language and how defensive they might be feeling.

Third, practice Unconditional Positive Regard.

Remember that the person in front of you has value and worth. Make sure that if you’re assuming intent, it’s positive intent, and if you’re making up stories about why someone would do something, you’re making up the most positive story you possibly can.

Fourth, seek out a Common Purpose.

Determine what context or common ground you and the other person share, and make a concerted effort to reinforce that you’re on the same side. Keep returning to the common purpose and the shared benefits of the outcome of this conversation.

Fifth, only after you’ve done the others can you focus on candor.

The other person won’t be able to hear your candid correction or genuine praise if they’re not sure the situation is safe, if they don’t perceive that you care for them, and if they don’t understand what common ground you share – and all of those are really hard to convey if we’re careless about our communication.


While you’re in a tough moment, remember to check that

  • The environment is not distracting
  • Both parties are actively engaged in the conversation
  • The conversation is making constructive forward progress
  • If you or they need a break, be sure to take the break!


As you read through these hints and tips, you likely recalled some of the tough moments you’ve been through in the past. Maybe they went well, maybe there were challenges - either way, be sure to reflect on those and apply any learnings you’ve had in the past to your tough moments in the future. 

Here’s hoping this set of tips and moment of reflection sets you up for better results - and better workdays - in the future.


Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Communication & Collaboration

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!





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