My last couple of posts (How to Get Your Point Across without Poking a Hole in Anyone and Questions About Talking Side by Side) triggered a sort of counterpoint question from a reader: How do you avoid having a hole poked in you by someone else?
We’ve all interacted with someone who isn’t kind, wants to make an example of us, or takes a shot at us every now and then. Regardless of the context of the relationship or whatever deep-seated issues prompt that person to go after you, here are some dodge-and-weave routines to help ensure that if a punch is thrown you can minimize the blow.
Start with reflection: Is what your antagonist says about you true? And if it is true, do you care? Consider whether there’s an actual intention to do harm or a repeated pattern of hurt, or whether the dig is merely inadvertent or careless. And will the experience matter to you in six months, or a month, or a week, or tomorrow — or can you just ignore it and let it waft away? (I’m talking about a real dissipation of tension here, not just pretending not to notice what happened.)
Are there safe and appropriate ways to protest the way you’re being treated (or how someone else is being treated in front of you, for that matter)? Will it help if you bring appropriate facts and data to bear as a sort of protective shield? Can you suggest a cooling-off period? Or is the hole-poking — and the damage it causes — actually the whole point of the hostile behavior?
(Story time: I was a young, somewhat naive junior exec in a meeting where two senior execs were poking holes in a middle-level guy, using a veritable forest of sharpened stakes. Any corrective value of their questioning was long gone, the middle exec was mute, and it didn’t look like the bloodletting was going to stop.
When I couldn’t think of any other safe and appropriate way to shift the conversation, I asked if they were trying to work things out or just trying to punish the guy. At that point, the meeting ended abruptly and the poor fellow escaped, at least temporarily. I can’t recommend this approach because the next day I was scolded for being “unprofessional”; on the other hand, after that they were more careful when I was present. )
If the answer to both these maneuvers is no, can you get away, as in leave the room, the role, or even the relationship? Some forms of interaction are inherently unhealthy. You may actually need a buffer, a recovery plan, or an exit strategy.
Onward and upward,