A friend of mine, "Marie", develops training programs for her clients. Recently, she ran a program and encountered a very hostile participant. Luckily, Marie is quite skilled at managing conflict and she was able to get her program back on track but she was amazed that all the people sitting in the training room remained silent while this man, their co-worker, verbally attacked her.
A couple of days after the program concluded Marie contacted her client. All those people who sat silently were silent as they too had been on the receiving end of similar behaviour. They were silent because they didn't have the skills or the confidence to manage the situation. Amazingly, as they sat, they were watching how Marie handled the situation and treating it as an opportunity to learn how they too might handle things "next time."
Some of the techniques Marie used were:
- Listening without interrupting. Marie said very little until the man had finished what he had to say.
- Marie acknowledged what the man said and the emotion behind it. Everything she said was said in a calm manner. She didn't raise her voice and she maintained a strong posture.
- Marie didn't try and defend her point of view. Instead, having listened and acknowledged, she moved to joint problem solving and got the other participants involved.
When Marie told me her story, she identified what for her was the key to her success: she chose not to defend her position. In Marie's opinion, had she been defensive, the conversation (such as it was) would have become an argument: I'm right, you're wrong. She did what can be very difficult in the heat of the moment: to put the issue aside to focus first on listening, then acknowledging and then moving to joint problem solving. No wonder the participants were watching and learning.