One of the exciting advantages of working in the Strategic Communication & PR field is the constant opportunities to meet new fascinating people that can turn into friends and often also possible clients. It involves a passion for strong & genuine human interaction: Curiosity, Psychology, Emotional Intelligence, Skill, Wit and Trust in addition to preliminary research and an important understanding of Strategy.
Sometimes however, no matter the amount of Preparation, Know-how and years of Experience, a few unexpected variables can challenge the professional’s approach during his/her first meeting with potential client. This article focusses on 7 of the many tips that can help professionals to deal with condescending and rude prospects.
While coming across such behaviour can first throw you off-balance due to the surprise element it involves (not expecting the tackle) it is important to acknowledge the situation as soon as possible.
1- Zoom Out, Breath: What is really going on ?
So, you start the meeting with the best of dispositions and in a very good mood, when suddenly your interlocutor (often an authority figure) sends his first jab and catches you off-guard. You might’ve been starting to present yourself, the company you work for, or a mutually beneficial project opportunity when you are suddenly abruptly interrupted. It can be through a perceived passive/ aggressive behaviour or by an upfront provocation:(rude interruption, hypocrite understatement, constantly talking over you, repeatedly addressing a second person in the room, not looking at you, devaluating you, your work, project, not answering your questions, repeatedly answering unimportant phone calls. We will not cover the case of a blatant insult as in this situation, the best is to leave the room and end the encounter at once).
Rough Interruption is one of the many destabilization tricks seasoned businessmen & businesswomen can use to:
– Check out your personality, experience & confidence
– Establish Status / Dominance either in private or in front of an audience.
– Destabilize you to keep the upper-hand in negotiations
– Sabotage the initial purpose of the meeting to dictate their own agenda
One of the many early signs that something weird is going-on in addition to your intuition is the signal of uneasiness instantly triggered and felt by your body. (Not to be confused with shyness or stage-fright symptoms which are quite similar but induced by different stimuli). Humans are not placid preprogrammed robots. Therefore, a sudden pattern-interruption or surprise can rapidly send your body in a reptilian brain fight or flight response.
Awareness will help you acknowledge your present state, accept the emotion and start breathing deeply to slow you down. In addition to the many benefits of deep-breathing, it increases the oxygen flow to your brain and has a fast-soothing effect to balance your body’s fight or flight response symptoms.
A few of the many symptoms you might experience:
– Heart pounding fast
– Dry mouth
– Shaky & moist hands
– Feeling of heat or cold etc..
– Temporary reduced hearing capacity
– Slightly blurred vision..
Depending on the context, your personality and issues at stake; you might feel the need to fight back, or, shy away and wish for the encounter to end as fast as possible.
By Breathing deeply, you allow yourself to reconnect with your core and ground yourself in the present.
One of the visualization techniques: is to channel the perceived verbal aggression through your body by connecting the soles of your feet to the ground. Just like a thunderbolt when it hits an object, the verbal aggression will travel through and will disperse in the ground via your feet, releasing you from most of the negative emotional charge. Some versions of Yoga & Martial arts provide good exercise that can help you practice such awareness & release drills as it’s easier said then done.
2- Assess: Great, Now what ?
Once you have taken a step back and acknowledged the situation. You need to assess the severity of the Interruption on a scale of 1 to 4 and decide. Is it a slight perturbation common in business practice (1) or a full-fledged provocation (4) ?
Seasoned professionals will often not take the risk to challenge you too abruptly or openly which they know will constitute an immediate breaking-point (unless that is their initial intention). Still they will shove you around quite enough to judge you by your reaction. Depending on your judgement, if the rudeness of the interruption is far greater than the issue at stake you can decide to terminate politely the meeting and leave at once. This will keep your behaviour professional and avoid an unnecessary escalation.
However, if the interruption is more of a passive/aggressive behaviour and not severe enough to terminate the meeting, there are a few techniques that will prevent you from being totally dominated and looking like a fool in a front of others: Do not take it personal because The Game is officially on.
3- A few Tricks of the Trade:
– Smile and look into their eyes: by continuing to breathe deeply and smoothly whilst maintaining a slightly more insistent-then-usual eye contact, you will let them know that you understood what is going on and that you are not impressed. It also shows you choose to listen and be actively present in the conversation. This allows you to continue to speak or listen smoothly while sending an obvious and firm non-verbal message across.
– Let them speak/ empty their glass: Silence is a powerful weapon. By choosing to remain momentarily silent, yet by maintaining more frequent eye-contact and nodding your head from time to time you create a void that they will pour into until they empty their cup. The Asian saying goes you can’t fill a glass that is already full.
In addition to providing you with important information, it also allows you to step-back and actively listen to figure out what they are really saying (body language, tone, verbal info, leads..). In a sense, they are giving themselves away for you to capitalize on later provided you play your cards right. Once they’re done, they will feel lighter with you reclaiming the Timing Advantage.
You don’t need to receive what they are emotionally throwing at you. ‘Open the door’, step to the side, and watch as it flows.
– Firmly Use their First Name more than 3 times in a crescendo tone: john! John! JOHN!
Once you have assessed the issue and decided to Resume your Presentation and they are still talking over you. One of the tricks is to Firmly Use their First Name more than 3 times in a crescendo tone as mentioned above, whilst quickly following-up with a softer: John, I agree with you on this point…still..
This technique allows you to make them conscious of their behaviour, pause, which allows you to resume your expose, reclaim equal status, while following-up immediately with a softer voice. Showing determination and agility as Talleyrand was known to be an iron fist in a velvet glove. On a Subliminal stage it works by breaking the hierarchy barrier presumed by the condescending person and bringing him/her back to an equal level that resonnates deep into their childhood programming.
– Gently Smile and Whisper saying: come one, you’re not going to use that trick are you?!
Speaking at lower pitch than usual will force them to lower their voice to listen. In addition, the sentence you will use shows them that you’ve been around and are no rookie. It also induces a certain level of proximity and appears like you’re both making an entre-nous confession that could pave the way to a more transparent development.
In conclusion, a multitude of other tricks exist. They all have their pros and cons depending on how, why, when and on who they are used. Many Books have been written throughout the centuries by All-time Strategy Masters such as Sun Tzu, Confucius, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Robert Greene.. They served as a great inspiration while writing this article, in addition to my personal 10 Year experience meeting hundreds of people worldwide. I have also learnt no one is perfect and although we all make mistakes, what is important is to acknowledge them and learn from them. A little self-awareness can helps us all.
Finally, one of the safe ways to Start a Meeting is often to Assess first and foremost the General Topography of the Interlocutor: Who is he/she ? What are his/her motives? Disregarding prior encounters, what is his/her current mood? Level of energy ? Etc. Only then can one proceed to the many other phases of a first Business meeting: mutual sharing of credentials, information sharing etc..
Good-will is an important factor in a first business meeting, however it is not essential. Mutual Interest often brings together confrontational actors. They can still aim to reach a possible agreement, as long as both come to the impression that they are about to make a good deal.
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