difficult conversations and colleagues 

Day 4

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Hello everybody and welcome to day four of Searching for Serenity's 7 day video tutorial series, Dealing with Difficult Conversations and Colleagues.

I can't believe that we are half way through the week already; I do hope that you are already seeing big changes.  The entire focus of this course is not only to help you deal with those difficult conversations with those people around you who can cause you some stress but to also help you to maintain a neutral grounding.  That is something that we are going to focus on today.

When you are dealing with difficult conversations and difficult colleagues it is very easy to become reactive to the way that they are with you.  You only have to think of somebody who becomes very aggressive in a meeting, using big body language or verbal aggression or abuse even and it is so easy to shrink down, to really fold in on yourself, as a result.  However if you can hold your ground and maintain what I call a co-operative stance, then you can invite that individual back into the conversation without losing ground to them and, most importantly, without feeling overwhelmed.

That is today's focus.

Each day as we have got through we have studied ourselves and then studied other people.  Following that same pattern today is a more introspective exercise.  However, we are beginning to pull these threads together to see how they help us during these difficult conversations and with these difficult colleagues.

Today I would ask you to consider your own natural style in responding to people.  I consider that there are three main styles of response; submissive, aggressive or co-operative.

A great way to study this is to consider any candid photographs you have (Facebook is great for this exercise!) or any video you have where you were being videoed unaware or where you were not the focus of what was going on.  Consider your own body language and how you are responding to other people.  Perhaps you aren't responding to other people; maybe you are the life and soul of the party and the one leading all the hijinks, in which case you can consider whether you have a more submissive or aggressive stance.

Now, if you don't have this extrinsic evidence such as videos or photographs, I would invite you to spend today considering your own style when in conversation with other people; whether that be in person or via telephone.

A good example of a more submissive or avoidant style of body language would be: angling away from people, putting a physical barrier between people, putting up walls such as putting your hands in front of yourself or even your palms out, showing others that you want to keep them at arm's length.  Some people will almost roll in on themselves to make themselves small - shoulders sloping forward and hunched, leaning toward the other person, becoming smaller, less obtrusive, less aggressive.

By contrast, a more aggressive stance is bigger and bolder.  Squared shoulders, he'd held high, clear eye contact, making yourself larger with hands on hips or out to the sides.  You will often see me talking with my hands but I tend to keep them contained in front of me, some people will make large, wide gestures, taking up more room than their bodies ordinarily allow, practically conducting an orchestra.  This is very aggressive and dominating.

It is important to understand that when I refer to aggressive body language I do not necessary mean that they are being aggressive toward you; I am referring to their style as being big, confrontational, unavoidable.  They may not mean to give this confrontational effect but this is the way it can come across.

So today, study your own interactions with other people and think about your own style.  Do you tend to become smaller, less obtrusive, even stammer in your speech, make yourself a small and less threatening person or do you become big in response to challenge and get up in other people's faces (whether literally or more subtly with larger body language).

Also study other people around you.  I know I have said before that open plan offices are my idea of hell.  However they are also great psychological research breeding grounds, so consider the other people around you.  When they get in a conversation what do they do; do they get up, sit down, make eye contact or look away, walk around, consider the other people around you. You can then start to identify these more submissive and aggressive stances.  You will begin to not only recognise these changes in other people but you will recognise these body language signals in yourself and be able to adjust your style to how you want to be perceived.

Once you have investigated your style, consider how you are going to use this in conversation.  This description of style focuses very much on body language but I don't  just want you to consider your body language.  Consider your style when on the telephone or when sending an email.  Do you tend to be quite conciliatory in your tone and spend lots of time apologising or thanking the other person and being quite overwhelmed, or do you simply tell people to get on with it and that's it.

Submissive or aggressive?

What we are going to do, once we have studied these styles, are to bring them together to develop the co-operative stance.  This is about not only maintaining a better relationship with the people that you are having these difficult conversations with but it also helps you to maintain your own emotions.

On day one I asked you to consider yourself as an island, to let everyone else's opinions and emotions to bounce off of you and to not take them on board.  To certain extent that is the ideal when at work; the goal is to be able to respond to other people appropriately and sensitively without their emotions impacting your own energy or your own emotions.

There is a fine line between responding appropriately and empathetically to someone to get the best results and feeling emotionally overwhelmed as a result of it.

Whilst doing this I want you to consider your own style, the style of the people around you and then seek to develop your own co-operative style.

Co-operation, in my view, is about inviting the best form other people.  This is a style that you can practice and adopt, both in conversation and in your body language, even down to implementing stock phrases that you use.  Your body language and the way that you respond to people will affect your physiological responses.  If you are in a meeting with someone who becomes bigger, aggressive, hands out, raising their voice you might reasonably be expected to adopt a more submissive pose.  As a result you may well find yourself rolling in on yourself, you might find your face flushing, stammering your words or not be able to get your words out or speak as strongly as you might do otherwise.  What we seek to achieve here is to adapt your style so that these more negative effects do not arise, because the emotions of other people do not affect you.


When I adopt a co-operative stance I think of it very much as holding my own ground without giving any away.

If I am in a room with someone who becomes very aggressive, throwing arms around and raising their voice, co-operative stance will assist me in maintaining my own ground, allowing them to run their own energy out without passing it on to me or creating that adrenaline spike in me, because that is when a meeting can rapidly spiral out of control.

If you can maintain a co-operative stance then you can bring the meeting back and be the grounding of that meeting.

By co-operative I mean neutral, inviting, expressive.  In that meeting with an aggressive person I, in reading their body language, will begin to respond in ways that give them what they need without giving them my energy or ground.

What do I mean by this?

A good example would be a client who is frustrated with the process and do not feel that they are being heard.  As a result they become bigger, larger, raise their voice because they are frustrated and their emotions  are overwhelming them.

My first step is to stop whatever I have in front of me and to show them that I am stopping.  What you cannot see on the video is that I have folded my hands, one on top of the other, and placed them on top of the piece of paper on my lap.  This shows them that they have my undivided attention, that they are being heard.  I will then tilt my head and nod to show that I am listening.  I will smile at them to show that, whilst they may be feeling aggressive it is not affecting me and whilst I am not patronising them, I am inviting them to come back to the reasonable conversation.  Head tilting, nodding, are all active listening techniques intended to draw the person back in.

What if the individual is very submissive?  Again, I will show that I am focusing my attention on them and I will try to catch their eye without getting into their space to show them that I am trustworthy and that, once they want to open up to me, I am here to hear what they have to say.

Throughout today I would ask you to consider your own style and that of those around you.  Who does it well, who doesn't do it so well, who is the person in the office who is completely unable to read other people?  

Following on from this, start to practice your neutral stance in order to make sure that you are not overwhelmed in those meetings.

Now, I could go on all day about this and so I am going to stop here but if this is something that you are struggling with or need more help practicing then you can reach out to me either at hello@searchingforserenity.co.uk or in the Searching for Serenity Facebook Group.

So for today, enjoy people watching and studying everyone.  Have an amazing day and I will be back in your inbox tomorrow morning.

Enjoy your task today, I think this is a great exercise!

Bye for now.