Relax. Stress generates irritability, which leads to anger, and anger shuts down communication. Studies have shown that a one-minute relaxation exercise will increase activity in the brain that is essential for communication and decision making. So before you enter any conversation, do this:
First notice which parts of your body are tense based on a scale of one to 10 (1 = completely relaxed; 10 = extremely tense). Write it down. For 30 seconds, breathe in slowly to the count of five, and then exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat this three times. Now, yawn a few times and notice if it relaxes you. Assign it a number between one and 10 and write it down. Now stretch your body, beginning with the muscles of your face, scrunching them up, then stretching them out. Then gently move your head from side to side and front to back. Scrunch your shoulders up and then push them down. Next tighten your arms and legs for a count of 10; then relax and shake it out. Take a few more deep breaths. Once more assign a number to your state of relaxation and write it down, noticing any improvement.
Stay present. When you focus on your breathing and relaxation, your attention is pulled into the present moment and inner speech stops, at least momentarily. If we bring this "presentness" into a conversation, we hear the subtle tones of voice that give emotional meaning to the speaker’s words. Being in the present moment will allow you to quickly recognize when a conversation begins to go astray.
Get quiet. Developing the skill to remain silent helps you give full attention to what other people say. To hone that skill, try an exercise with this online bell. Push the button to "strike" it then focus on the sound. As it fades, listen more closely. Ring the bell several more times, and listen more closely. This is the attentiveness you need when listening to someone.
Be positive. Take a mental inventory of your mood. Are you tired or alert, anxious or calm? Then, ask yourself: do I feel optimistic about this conversation? If there's any doubt, anxiety, or frustration—postpone it. If you can’t, then at least mentally rehearse the conversation first, which will help you spot statements you might make that would undermine your goal.
Confirm values. To make a conversation balanced and fair, everyone has to be clear and up front, about values, intentions, and goals. If your values are not aligned with those of the person you're trying to do business with, trouble is unavoidable. So learn about the person's values as soon as you can. But beware: some people will mask the nonverbal cues of deceit and just tell you exactly what you hope to hear.
Evoke memories. Enter the conversation with an expression that conveys kindness, compassion, and interest. But it cannot be faked. So if you're not feeling it, tap into a pleasant memory of people you love and respect. It will soften the muscles around your eyes and evoke a gentle half smile on your face, which stimulates a feeling of trust in the other person's brain.
Watch nonverbal cues. Keep your eyes on the person you're speaking with, but don't stare. And stay focused, making sure you aren’t distracted by inner thoughts. If a person wants to conceal a feeling— out of embarrassment or the desire to deceive— it might only appear for a quarter of second. But remember that micro-expressions can only tell you that a true emotion is hidden, it won’t tell you why or whether the person is purposefully concealing it.