How to Use Body Language and Non-Violent Communication Strategies to Manage Difficult People and Situations
Article written by Susan Clark Muntean, Ph.D.
All Ladybosses have encountered challenging situations with angry customers, irate clients, insubordinate employees, and hostile colleagues. Let’s admit – all of us on our bad days can be difficult people and require compassionate treatment to bring us back to our best, calm, level-headed selves. When we are on the receiving end of someone else’s bad day or difficult moment, what tools can we use to deescalate conflict, establish our boundaries, and assist others to recalibrate back to their best, calm, level-headed selves?
Here are some well designed and tested strategies and tactics I must share with you that you can use during your next difficult encounter. Start practicing these now and turn yourself into a Lady Boss Ninja with judo communication tactics added to your war chest!
The first strategy is to pay close attention to body language as your first source of power during a confrontation or tense situation, even if the perpetrator is merely exuding verbal or non-verbal hostility. Stand tall and straight and make yourself physically bigger by holding your head high, shoulders back and arms and legs “unlady-like” wide and open. Facial expressions should be relaxed, focused, and neutral. Unclench your jaw and unfurrow your brow. Exude Zen, presence, confidence and empathetic concern in your body language and eye contact. These responses are antithetical to what is anticipated from a victim cowering in fear or one fearful of attack by closing down, shrinking, or reactively escalating a conflict.
When feeling the danger, toxicity or aggression coming from another human being, become aware of your physical responses, including your heart rate, breath, blood flow and any other embodied reactions. Embody your higher, calmer inner self by tapping into what works for you during these times. This might entail counting to ten backwards, noticing physical structures and touching what is available to you to bring you back to physicality, or intentionally taking in long breaths and taking twice as long to exhale. Maybe an image comes to mind or a mantra or prayer.
Before responding, you must be physically present, embodied and grounded in your true and higher self. You must feel authentic and safe, empathetic, and solid in your body, and able to enforce your boundaries while exuding positive, safe, grounded energy.
Once you are fully present physically in your body and effectively expressing yourself and your intentions non-verbally, you can then begin executing your verbal response. At this stage, follow these steps from non-violent communication strategies.
Begin with sharing your observations of the situation and what has transpired. Stick to the objective facts, and not your interpretation, judgement, or how the transactions impacted you or others. Avoid labels. Use paraphrasing. Be empathetic and present. For example, if someone said to you “I have tried, but I cannot find a single woman or person of color that is qualified for this position”, your response should be something like:
I hear you saying that you are experiencing challenges in finding your ideal candidate that fits your diversity goals. Tell me more. What have your strategies been? How can I assist you in the process? There are so many amazing women and BIPOC candidates that I or my network can connect you with. You’ve got this!
The next stage in non-violent communication after expressing your objective observations is to express your feelings. This expression should be fully embodied and authentic, but non-judgmental and not structured in a way that would be too easily interpreted as critical or attacking. Come from a place of authentic connection, sharing and common ground. For example—continuing with the above scenario, say this:
I feel your frustration with wanting to do the right thing and struggling with how to do so. I want to share with you I have been in a similar situation, and not knowing what to do, despite wanting to do the right thing. I’m confident the tools I have to offer will get you to a better place and these promise a better path to success in achieving your goals of diversifying your team.
All feelings have an underlying need(s) associated with them. Being able to express needs is the next step in non-violent communication. Keeping with the same example, here is how you state your needs:
We all have a need to feel like we belong and are included and welcome. To flourish, I need to know that the opportunities available to me are based upon my potential capacity to contribute to the organization. By moving forward on the path of inclusion at your organization, you are opening the door to all varieties of people to add value to your goals.
For people that struggle with asking for what they need and want with assertiveness, the last step in nonviolent communications can be the hardest. But it is critically important to close the loop. Ask for what you need and want with conviction, authenticity and faith that you will receive. Here is an example of how to ask for what you want:
To further you along on your goals to be inclusive and diverse, I ask that you make a clear commitment to moving the needle. I can help you to formulate the announcement as well as assisting to set up metrics and accountability measures to make sure it happens. I am so excited to help you along the path by serving the team. Our next step is to set up the schedule and get all the stakeholders on board. Let’s do that now.
It’s not always easy to be a Ladyboss, but you can make it through these challenging situations. Arming yourself with the proper tools and strategies can help you to stay calm and in control when things get tough. How do you usually respond to difficult conversations or confrontations? Let us know in the comments!