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Dealing with Difficult

Posted on: Thursday, April 26, 2018 Category: Blog (51)

By Jo Martin

We all know them… those people that you just can’t seem to crack. Those work colleagues you just don’t work well with.  You sit in meetings, frustrated, unable to get your point across.  You don’t feel heard.  You are blocked.  You can’t reason with unreasonable.

Work for long enough and you will find yourself in this situation at some point.  So, what to do about it?  You can throw your toys and stamp your feet, but let’s look at some better alternatives.

People who work in crisis situations such as hospital emergency rooms and first responders are trained in what is called “verbal de-escalation”.  Tools to communicate with tricky people without making things trickier!

As with everything, the better you know the person, the more tools you will have to work through a situation.  Knowledge is power.  And so is presence.

The concept of three circles of presence or energy was introduced by Patsy Rodenburg, one of the world’s preeminent voice and acting teachers.  We all move between the three circles, and generally, in times of stress, we default to Circle One or Circle Three.

When someone is talking at you, not allowing you in, berating you, talking over the top of you, or stubbornly ignoring you, they are almost certainly in Patsy’s third circle.  The circle of bluff.  The circle of bravado.  The energy is out, pushing beyond you and the judgement is on you.

If someone is simply not engaging with you, they are closed in and offering nothing – they have probably withdrawn to the first circle, they’re judging themselves, pulling the energy inwards.

The good news is, you can draw people second circle.  The circle of equality.  The circle of no judgement.  The connected circle. How?

  1. Listen.  Really listen.  Listen without judgement and without crafting your reply.  Most third circle people just want to be heard and told that they are amazing!
  1. Breathe.  Breathing is powerful and can calm any situation.   Breathing properly will keep you calm and is weirdly infectious, others will calm down too.
  1. Then think about what you want to achieve, what does the other person really want to achieve.  Invite them to vent, remember that every piece of information you get out of them has the potential to help you.  If there is a hidden agenda, encouraging them to talk will reveal it.
  1. Be flexible.  Being in the second circle is about letting go of judgement, of both yourself and other people.  Allow yourself to change and be changed.  There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and remaining calm and flexible will help you at least, bring the conversation to an end.
  1. Most meetings are not about results.  They are about making connections.  Working out whether you trust someone.   You don’t need to have the last word.  So, you can leave a difficult interaction open-ended – that is fine, better than fine if you have managed to diffuse an awkward one. Follow up with an email.

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