Wrestling Tigers

Have you ever been in a situation where someone in the office is behaving like a deranged tiger! Sitting in a meeting recently, a group of managers discussed their response to a staff member who, in tiger fashion, was doing just that: storming out of the room and slamming doors (and, yes, he was in sales)!

This employee had been approached about the behaviour and, like so many before him, had immediately hit the emergency button – namely to say he was being ‘bullied’.

Cue ambulance sirens! Bring on the panic response!

“We need to digitally record conversations” they cried.

“We need to document it all” said another.

“Get third party legal advice” tendered the third and so it went.

Spot the obvious mistake! At Stanford University, research into ‘What the internet is doing to our brains’, Nicolas Carr quotes that in a digital age we are less able to maintain concentration on a particular task and we are good at fast decisive action. In fact he goes on to say that we are increasingly becoming more tribal and less exposed to people with interests or beliefs different from our own. And it is this lack of ability to hang-in, increased ability for fast decisive action and a lack of understanding of ‘difference’ that ring disaster bells for conflict mitigation.

In a digital age we are loosing our minds and with it the ability to converse under emotional stress.

“Courage is being scared to death—but saddling up anyway.”
John Wayne

Most people dread dealing with emotional people and difficult situations and do it really poorly, at different levels. At the base level, I kid you not, regularly I find people who actually begin to grab for their genitals.

A step further up the chain are those who already have a process programmed into their mind, body and voice, which was often embedded in a hugely successful conflict resolution in primary school. You know the incident where the grade 3 teacher berated you for some misdemeanour and you handled the situation with great aplomb. From that day on you embed the patterns you used in that situation and are using them to this day. Why we don’t take time to recognise and reconsider that pattern is a mystery of the sphinx, but the time has come to be re-informed.

Having worked in the dog-eat-dog world of opera stars, it is a natural transmutation for me to the corporate boardroom. What I have distilled is a 3-step process and nonverbal response with enormously positive outcome.

When I ask people what techniques they use to mitigate such situations, they tell me they apologise and they take responsibility and they tell them they ‘understand.’

Unfortunately, what most people don’t realise, especially in the heat of the moment, is that emotional people, like frightened animals, are responding with their primal brain. They don’t always want to hear how sorry YOU are or what YOU understand and they don’t necessarily want YOU to take responsibility. Instead, useful words as an alternative are to begin your discussion with “That’s…” or “It’s…” The ‘I’ response is so close, yet so far and in handling emotional situations, near enough is not good enough.

The second step is to reflect not only content, but also the emotion. Reflecting the emotion of what was said is recognising the vast proportion of communication that is in the non-verbal.

Why do we take these steps? Oddly enough, it is partly to buy time. Your mind works faster than your mouth and time to think can only be a benefit. Other reasons are to actually understand what the person has said. A third reason is that people in emotional situations want to ‘be heard’ and by reframing their thoughts and feelings, you can help them feel comfortable.

Lastly, you answer the question, which I leave to you. Just remember, using the process does not mean ‘going soft’.

What about the non-verbals? You must realise how desperately important the non-verbals are in any situation, with research showing them to account for as much as 93% of the message. Get these wrong and all the words in the world are just wasted puffs of air.

It is critically important when faced with a difficult, emotional situation that your body is not giving away some internal and aggravating message. Examples may be standing on one leg, head to one side, mouth tight or arms folded.

Find a ‘rest’ or ‘neutral’ position that you can recreate over and over again with ease.

Often this involves standing on two feet at shoulder width with posture up straight (not stiff) and one hand on the wrist of the other stretched long before you. While this position is necessary from a perceptual perspective, it is also important to put it in the best possible position for you to access your true voice unhindered.

It is habit of many of us, that immediately before we answer questions we quickly glimpse off and away from the person to whom we are speaking. For a multitude of reasons best known to Neuro-Linguistic programmers (of which I am one) this is not something that is seen to be trustworthy or confident. Keep your eyes directly on the person when you have finished listening and begin to answer (note: this is harder than it sounds).

The eye contact during the listening phase is softened by nodding and blinking. Did you know that 15 blinks a minute is the speed at which we send the message of giving our greatest attention. That means, one blink approximately every four seconds. So get practicing. It won’t kill you.

Sharing of air is an ancient and primal exchange between people that creates a sense of respect and trust. In Hawaii a common etymological claim is that the word for foreigner is derived from ha’ole, literally meaning “no breath”? Traditionally Hawaiians and Polynesians greet each other by touching nose-to-nose and inhaling and sharing each other’s breath – this is called honi (the Hawaiian word for kiss). Foreigners, not knowing the local customs, do not practice honi and so have been described as ‘breathless’.

The three-step process is a tried and true process for managing emotional situations and is a far better-informed backbone to success than that informed by the successful interaction with the grade three teacher.

This process can be dramatically enhanced by becoming aware and training new non-verbal reactions. At first it will appear false, but it is all about recognising that we are flexible human beings with many options that can become habit by choice and comfortable new patterns over time.

Learn the keys and discover how to confront and diffuse these situations. Save time and money, increase company loyalty, and get on with the important things in business and life. There are no rules (except to never fiddle with your genitals), just tips, but they can be far more rewarding than calling the lawyers.

By Louise Mahler
Inspirational speaker and body language expert. www.louisemahler.com.au

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