A few years back while working as a trainer teaching organisations how to better manage aggressive behaviours in the workplace, I met a participant who from the get-go presented as passive aggressive and oppositional to the material being taught.
I prepared myself internally for the discussion that had to be had with this participant having become painfully aware of my rising levels of stress and anxiety at the thought of what was to come. I had to be ready for the participant’s expected verbal assaults and behaviour in-light of the aggressive tone already being presented. I did this by detaching emotionally from the situation to facilitate a rational response. I then, pre-scripted the conversation to better manage the situation at hand.
When I share my concerns with the participant regarding his attitude/behaviour, he responded with perhaps more hostility than expected. I kept calm, spoke evenly, managed my body language and took control of the situation. Through this, a good outcome was achieved and perhaps one that has altered the participant’s trajectory for the better, perhaps.
I always say “Bullies are only ok when they’re bullying”
Had I reacted to the participant’s behaviour and not managed my own stress and anxiety, I would more than likely have become frustrated and angry. This would have given the participant both the reason and the opportunity for further conflict, whereas, I took control of myself, in so doing, the situation as well.
“No person is free who is not master of himself”, Epictetus
The ability to manage stress and anxiety was much needed in this situation knowing that I could easily become angry during the conversation we were about to have. I prepared myself internally being pre-prepared for the response and behaviour from the participant.
Have you, like me ever regretted something you have said when stressed or angry? The ability to quickly relieve stress and regain your composure will allow you to avoid such regrets while more than likely calming the other person as well. Remember, Behaviour influences Behaviour so should someone be angry with you, keep a calm tone with open body language to de-escalate rather than escalate the situation.
Here are some Strategies to Manage Stress and Anxiety:
Stalling/Delayed Response: Gives you time to think so ask a question to be repeated or seek further clarification to what has been spoken, all to give you some breathing space before next responding.
Pause while collecting your thoughts. This makes you appear thoughtful, reflective and in control of the situation while again giving you breathing space to collect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into responding before you’re ready.
Another great strategy I used prior to the meeting was to Power Pose, let me explain.
While surfing the internet I came upon an interview between Tony Robbins and Dr Oz about changing the way you feel. Tony spoke about the Power Posture in achieving that state of ‘feeling better’. I did some research, learnt and tried Power Posing and felt a calm confidence come over me.
The Power Posture is a dominant posture, hands on hips, chest out, chin up, hold for 2 minutes. For those old enough to remember, think of Wonder Woman, got it. Test subjects completing this simple exercise increased their testosterone levels (a hormone that influences dominance) while decreasing cortisol levels (a hormone that governs stress reactivity). Conversely, tests revealed that subjects sitting in a ‘lower power pose’(legs/arms crossed in front for protection, slouching, looking at the floor) saw a decrease in testosterone and an increase in cortisol levels. This means that a mere 2 minutes of posturing will result in you being either assertive, confident and comfortable OR being stress reactive, feeling compromised and vulnerable should you adopt the lower power pose.
Often times when discussing body language and non-verbal cues it is from the perspective of as perceived by others so, what they observe in us.
My Behaviour influences your Behaviour and vice versa, If I look down trodden and dejected, you will probably respond differently as to a dominant posture, correct?
The Power Posture is about how our non-verbal cues affect us personally knowing that our brains can change our bodies and our bodies can change our brains hormonally. Research and physiological testing prove this to be the case following mere minutes of Power Posing.
In primate hierarchies one will observe the Alpha Male to have high levels of testosterone and low levels of cortisol. The same goes for dominant/effective Leaders. This results in Leaders that are not only dominant but also have low stress reactivity so if you will, ‘flexible and cool under pressure’. It can be observed with some quick physical manipulations you can implement in minutes; the test subjects could increase the one hormone while decreasing the other.
Back to the primate hierarchies, when a lower male is forced to take over as Alpha Male that within days his testosterone levels increase significantly while his cortisol decreases. This reflects the change in role whereby the hormones responded to change allowing him to ‘rise to the occasion’
Be deliberate, when giving a presentation, going for an interview, meeting the executives, dealing with difficult situations or any other anxiety provoking situation. Be deliberate with your non-verbal cues, it’s not just how people perceive you but more importantly, how you perceive you.
Now, stand tall, chest out and do what you gotta do.
Leighton has over 25 years working with organizations on handling passive aggressive behaviour and micro-aggression. He's now based in Singapore transforming individuals and organizations with his rich coaching experience. He travels between Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand.