Great question. And the obvious answer is to do good work and to build trust by doing what you say, when you say you will. Repeatedly.
But that answer doesn’t work when you are with new people and you haven’t had time to earn the respect the hard way.
So how do you help ensure that you make a credible impression from the get go, particularly when your antennae twitch to patronising or dismissive behaviour – perhaps because you’re a bit different to what they’re used to?
Teach Others How To Treat You
In tricky situations it can be easy to let the lack of respect eat away at your self esteem. Don’t let it. Take control and show others what your standards of behaviour are, more by how you show up than what you say.
Rather than letting everything spiral down to their level, choose to model the behaviour you want from them. Create a buffer for yourself. In the words of Victor Frankl “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
And you can create this in one of two ways:
Create Physical Space: While leaving the room or zoom might be your preferred option where that’s not possible you can still mentally create space. Give yourself an imaginary shiny carapace or suit of armour, off which all cutting comments bounce straight back to them.
And if that still feels too close for comfort imagine you are looking down on the scene from a distance so you can disassociate from it emotionally. Literally rise above it – it can help to imagine you are miles above looking down from a satellite if needs be.
Give Yourself Time: Give yourself a moment of breathing space between the barb and the response. Rather than respond defensively to a cutting comment or sideways look, take a moment to breathe in, notice the hurt and breathe out, letting it go. Though it may seem counterintuitive have a feeling of compassion for the person who needs to behave in such an insecure way.
This space and time will allow you to spiral up into the behaviour you want for the group, rather than down to the most negative level. You may even find that you are able to affirm positive behaviour when it occurs – thanking people for something good that has happened, or appreciating them genuinely for something they’ve done, can detoxify a situation quickly. Don’t expect miracles of course – it may take time. If you consistently show up teaching others how to treat you, over time you will see changes.
Play Your (Personal) Power
New situations – particularly where work is a bit political, can feel a bit survival of the fittest. In those situations you want to show up signalling physical confidence. It communicates that you trust yourself – which in turn leads them to take what you say seriously.
So often the opposite happens. In new situations we are desperate to please – think new dog in the pack – we physically shrink and go into overdrive seeking approval. That looks and sounds like low power and can put you at a disadvantage. Others may decide they can push you around.
Much better to suggest physically that you have an inner trust in yourself no matter what: the stillness and the ease of the aphex predator rather than the prey. What’s brilliant is that this can be wordless. In situations where you are new it’s often best to observe first – if you do it with enough confidence they don’t know what you don’t know.
Depth and Breadth can be useful as a reminder to help find this physical ease.
Depth: Feel your weight drop. Sit up, back still. The very root of the word serious is from the Latin serius “weighty, important, grave”. When you find your personal weight, your centre of gravity rather than trying to earn approval you start to exert a magnetic pull on other. If you feel yourself in panic mode, find stillness. Be comfortable with that. As long as you keep your breathing relaxed and a sense of ease in the body, stillness is a power behavior. Others have to move around you.
Breadth: Open up your peripheral vision to give you easy power. Have a sense of the whole landscape rather than the tunnel vision we do when we feel threatened. And observe what’s going on around you without needing to get involved – think relaxed lion rather than watchful wildebeest…
You Don’t Have to Fill Silence
And in the same vein you don’t have to fill silence. Sometimes the best response to a cutting or inappropriate comment is a relaxed pause which allows everyone to feel a little uncomfortable.
Wait for someone else to fill the silence, wait to see what comes next. As every negotiator knows the least powerful person fills the silence. It can be the best retort to a cutting or patronising comment because you avoid descending to their level. It’s often a good way to smoke out bad behaviour. And if you do need a quick follow up to a question the interviewer David Frost’s question “tell me more” can be a great catch all. It wins you time to think.
The golden rule, where there’s a bit of power play going on, to remember is that it doesn’t matter if they like you or not. When you let go of the need for approval you can root yourself in how you have value, even if they can’t see it yet. Remind yourself why you are there and what you offer. Notice you can lead a room as much by how you communicate physically as what you say. You teach them how to treat you simply by the power of your presence. It’s a game changer!
I shared a short video about this earlier in the week which you can watch by clicking on the link below.
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