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Use these phrases to shift disruptive behaviour

Changing the energy (without passive aggression)

What do I do when I’m stuck in a meeting with someone who is blocking and undermining me? They might be interrupting, or playing with their phone, being argumentative or dismissive.

Even with the presence of mind to know their behaviour is an indication they are struggling, our natural human defensiveness can make it difficult to respond well. In our latest blog, we explore a practical technique for dealing with the mismatchers and the derailers.

Last time we looked at the magic wand that is unconditional positive regard. This is the idea that everyone (even that “difficult” person) is doing the best they can with the resources they have available.

Ignore the ego

Unconditional positive regard has a helpful twin, called ‘it’s-not-about-me’.

When we take things personally, it’s easy to be caught up in reactive thinking about what we think the “difficult” person is thinking about us.

Instead, consider the possibility that their behaviour is nothing to do with us. They might simply be troubled by the state of their marriage/home/cat/world.

"That’s all very nice," I hear you say. "I have unconditional positive regard, and I know “it’s-not-about-me”. Meanwhile, I’m still stuck in a meeting with someone who is blocking and undermining me." 

What do I actual do?

Well, from a less reactive, more connected state of mind, we can start looking for solutions. These solutions will appear in the moment and will be perfectly appropriate to the circumstance. Trust your resourcefulness to come through when it’s needed…

Perhaps it's useful to have some idea of what a more resourceful response might look like - how about this?

Bystanding interventions to shift the energy

  • “I’m noticing that you’re checking your email, and taking calls.  Can I check everything’s ok? Would you like us to pause for ten minutes so you can get that all sorted?”
  • “I’m noticing that you’re distracted. Is now still a good time for you? I’m really happy to re-schedule to a better time.”
  • “Can I check something with you please? I’m curious about your tone and body language. To me you seem defensive - am I reading that wrong?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve turned up ten minutes late for the meeting again. I wonder if there’s a better way to schedule this so we’re making best use of time for both of us?”
  • “I’m noticing we’re going round in circles. How can we make this conversation work better do you think?”

In dialogic practice the first sentence in each of these interventions is called a bystand. This means stepping outside of the conversational hurly burly and naming what’s going on. We’ve discussed it before here - it’s a powerful way of interrupting unhelpful conversational patterns.

Combined with an easy and generous solution, a bystand can swiftly shift the energy of the conversation in a way that feels benign, positive and graceful.

What ensures these interventions don’t come over as passive aggressive? They only work if we’re coming from a place of unconditional positive regard while ignoring our ego (‘it’s-not-about-me’).

Simple and not easy

It’s natural and human to be reactive in tricky encounters, and fail to rise above it. If you don’t always manage it, that’s ok. You’re simply being a human.

Don’t beat yourself up.

Instead, keep the mental door open just a crack to let in the possibility of a different response next time. Then see what happens.

As ever, we’d love to know what you think. Have you tried a bystand? How did it work out?

With warm wishes from

The Creative Coaching team

Posted on Mon, July 31, 2023 in Coaching General Leadership Organisational Development Personal Development
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