6 Ways to Get Rid of Emotional Baggage BEFORE a Challenging Conversation

Office worker with baggageIf you can travel lightly, emotionally speaking, a challenging conversation will take a lot less effort. But how do you unload that excess emotional baggage?

Here are a few creative ways to get the emotions out. Any number of these may work for you—so pick one you like, or try them all.  (Preparation is also important—if you could use some help in that area, see my earlier post on Preparing for A Challenging Conversation.)

Fast Writing

This is a 30-minute “brain dump” in which you simply write down anything and everything that comes to you. This stream-of-consciousness style keeps you from making a real discourse out of your thoughts, and frees you to just “get the emotions out,” regardless of how incoherent they may be. Most authors suggest doing this writing longhand as opposed to on a keyboard. The purpose is to clear your mind.

Write whatever your head says and don’t edit yourself. If you go blank, write dots on the page until something comes into your head, and then write whatever shows up. Keep writing. Then, when you’re done, throw it away. Physically destroy the paper. Sometimes the more physical action feels more “real.” Burn the paper, if it helps.

The process is the important thing, not the product. The point is to do something that gives you enough relief that you can have the conversation without the distraction of strong emotions that you haven’t addressed yet.

Email to No One

This is similar to fast writing in that you won’t be keeping it, but here you are writing the email intentionally and specifically—as if you were saying all the hard things you need to say to this person or telling your best friend how you feel. Having those thoughts and feelings out where you can look at them helps dissipate the emotional impact of them. It may also clarify any still-foggy areas.

IMPORTANT: Make sure you don’t put anyone’s address in the “To:” box!

The good thing about email is that if you don’t save it, and you don’t send it, it goes nowhere. Once you’re done writing and you feel some relief, delete the email permanently. Then when you have the actual conversation, you can set these feelings aside, knowing you’ve already gotten them out and dealt with them.


When you can take the time to write down your thoughts on paper, sometimes they become clearer. Even a little bit of this can be useful. The difference between journaling and fast writing is that the journal is intended for future review. You may find it useful to reflect later on what you were thinking before the conversation and how things changed afterwards.

Your journal entry doesn’t have to be shared with anyone. This can be especially helpful for more introverted people who really aren’t comfortable letting others in on their personal thoughts and feelings.

Talking to a Trusted Friend

All of us get by with a little help from our friends. This is one of those things a good friend can do for you. Make sure the friend isn’t entangled in the issue you need to talk about—just someone you trust to help you get your emotions out without judgment. What you need is a chance to work things out verbally. If you want advice, that’s fine, but if it’s not useful at this point, let your friend know what you need before you start.

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Even if you believe you have no artistic talent, making a picture of what you’re feeling can go beyond trying to talk about it. You may just be scribbling, but you can express your feelings deeply by scratching out lines or painting colors on a receptive surface. If it feels dark, make it dark. If it feels sharp and angular, make it sharp and angular. You can make it look angry, hurt, frustrated, afraid, concerned—whatever you’re feeling.

Then, when you’re done, once again, leave your emotion there. Now you can set the art aside, or destroy it—whatever feels best.

Physical Activity

Lots of people feel great emotional relief when they do something physical. A good workout can help clear your head before a difficult conversation. Go for a run or a bike ride, or shoot some hoops. Swimming always helps me clear my head.

I hope these ideas have helped. What other ideas do you have to let go of the emotional baggage prior to having a challenging conversation?

About the author:

John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.  You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.

8 thoughts on “6 Ways to Get Rid of Emotional Baggage BEFORE a Challenging Conversation

  1. Hi John,
    Thank you for your article. I saw it and thought it would be wonderful to connect since we have similar interests – perhaps you’d enjoy this? Marie Miyashiro wrote the business book ‘The Empathy Factor’ and she’s in Melbourne next month. It would be lovely to meet you, Warmest Regards, Karen http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=59169&type=member&item=249712939&qid=3742dba1-a182-406c-9de8-b8f1dabc8fb2&trk=group_most_recent_rich-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egde_59169_member_247273234%2Egmr_59169

  2. Great tips John. I try really hard to make sure I don’t respond immediately. An e-mail fired back in anger is always an e-mail regretted. If it’s lunchtime I’ll go for a walk. If it’s home time I’ll reply the next day. If it’s during the day I walk the corridors of our building until my head is clear.
    I’ll definitely try your writing it down tip. Might change my image from that strange colleague who paces the corridors from time to time!

  3. Great advice John. I’d recommend a quick visit to a calming place. This could be the beach, the woods, or some other location. Just find some place that calms you and you can relax.

  4. John, Thank you for the insight. I couldn’t help but see the correlation to learning styles in the way that people express their emotions in a healthy way. E.g. Drawing= Visual, Physical Activity= Kinetic. There may be something to helping those we coach with understanding how they could best express their emotions based on their simple learning style preference. Interesting….

  5. Great piece! I suggest being physically & mentally(as much as possible) rested. Fatique will amplify feelings and responses.
    Prior to the conversation, give yourself a timeout. Let issues settle so you never react emotionally in the heat of the moment.

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