This month’s article is all about how to manage situations where you feel under attack. I’m talking about where you suddenly get back footed – in a meeting or a conversation and you were not expecting that to happen. I had this happen to me really recently and I want to tell you about it…
Here’s my story: Two social workers came to see me as I had some safeguarding concerns that had arisen in my mother’s care home. However, when I sat down with them it became apparent that they did not really want to talk about that, in fact, what they wanted to talk to me about was the fact that my Mum had moved into a care home and whether or not I had put her there against her will. I very quickly realised that this was not a ‘let’s talk about the safeguarding issue’, but in fact, it was an interrogation of me!
Immediately, in my brain, I could hear myself thinking ‘why they asking me all these questions?’ and as I got myself flustered I started to kind of loose information from my brain. In fact, there’d been one specific challenge that my Mum had been experiencing which was a great example of the safeguarding issue. As they began asking me questions, I was still so stunned that we were having a meeting about something else entirely, I couldn’t find any examples to back up what I wanted to say and as soon as they’ve left I had a ton of them!
What we need to be able to do in these situations is to keep calm and find ways to be able to come up with the right responses, even though we might have gone in to fight, flight or freeze mode. If you think that learning some skills like that would be useful to you then keep reading!
Number one is a really simple NLP and hypnotherapy technique! You can just start to tell a story around the thing that you are talking about, you know, maybe backtrack in history and start to give all of the information and fluff that you would ordinarily cut out. What this is – it’s you buying yourself some time. Whilst you’re coming up with fluff you can also be thinking in your head about other important things like the most important things that you want to be able to say about the situation. Another way that you can pad is to get halfway through doing that and then pause and go “I’m so sorry, I’ve completely forgotten what the question was?”
As part of our padding, we can also ask them to repeat the question because once again it buys you more time to think about what you’re saying to catch your breath and to calm yourself down. These are all communication strategies that you learn in NLP. The chances are that whilst you’re trying to think and talk at the same time you might get yourself built up into a bit more of a frenzy, whereas, if you ask them to repeat the question, you can catch your breath compose yourself and start to really think.
Number two is for you to ask questions of them. This serves two purposes! Once again, it gives you some thinking time whilst they reel off whatever the answer to your questions might be but most importantly from a psychological perspective that gives both you and them the opportunity to get the sense of regaining control of this interaction. In my therapy practice in Hertfordshire, we practice these skills together in NLP Sessions. Typically, we think of the person who is asking the questions is the one who is directing or leading the conversation so by you starting to ask some questions of your own it’s a bit like when your dog puts his paw on top of your hand and says ‘I’m taking charge here’. It’s the same sort of thing. You are saying actually I’m going to take charge of this situation for a moment so that you internally give yourself a bit of a confidence boost, in knowing that, you are taking control of this situation and maybe you start to get them to back off a little bit because they realise that perhaps you’re going to be a bit more feisty to deal with and anticipated.
Number three is to backtrack. If you suddenly remember stuff. The last thing you want to have happened is to walk away from that exchange as I did on Friday thinking “why didn’t I say this?, why didn’t I say that?”. What you should do at that moment is to say “sorry, but just actually, I just remembered something. I’m really sorry to interrupt you but in the beginning, you asked me about this and it’s just popped back into my brain that I didn’t add this in and I just wanted to add this because I think it might be important now”.
If the conversation is over and you have parted company go back to the conversation if you can. For me, it could be a follow-up email or a letter that I send where I say “remember when you asked me that question about the difference between NLP and Hypnosis and I didn’t seem to have an answer at the time. I’m sorry I just got myself a bit flustered because I wasn’t expecting the meeting to be going like that but here is the answer to your question just so that you have the information that you were looking for that day”.
Don’t be afraid to backtrack and go back to a point if you feel that you haven’t explained yourself properly. It could be really important that you do that!
My favourite tip is number four and that is to say “three things….” I do this a lot! It can sometimes shoot you in the foot because at the point when you say “three things…”, you probably haven’t got three things! You might have one but as a result of putting that little bit of pressure on your brain, it causes you at times to be able to generate some more ideas. I will start talking about whatever thing number one was which was probably the only one that I had in mind at that time but very often by the time I’ve got to talking about thing one my brain has come up with what thing two should be and then I can add that in.
Sometimes, if I haven’t got a thing number three I’ll go back to number one again and say it again. It causes your brain to go into more of a thinking and searching mode but it also means for the person that you are interacting with, that you’re not just kind of coming up with one of the answers. You are really thinking about what it is that they’re asking you, even though they might have completely caught you on the back foot and they were thinking that they were going to catch you out.
You’ve just shown them that mentally – you are prepared for this and that you can come up with reasonable responses to what they are asking you. My final tip is, to be honest about your emotion at that moment. It’s okay for you to say ‘I’m sorry if my voice is starting to sound a bit shaking. I just wasn’t expecting to have this conversation today. I feel like you’ve caught me on the back foot and actually, now I feel unprepared. Don’t take it personally, but I just needed you to know that. Sorry, what was your question?”.
Express and share the emotion that you’re feeling with them because if you do then become upset at least you’ve re-framed it with them and have justified why is your feeling the way in which you are feeling – show your emotions and to explain why it is. At my NLP therapy practice in Hertfordshire, you’ll learn more about expressing emotions.