Iceberg dead ahead!
I was alone in front of 28 potentially hostile members of my audience, having already dried up once and wanting oh-so-much for them to like me and get on-side.
And what happened next?
I swore. Not by much, but hearing that “sometimes we have a shitty day” was too much for one member of the audience and she started tutting, turning to her neighbours, muttering “and now he’s swearing” loud enough to draw attention. Those around her didn’t agree with her, which was great for me, but then started laughing at her, which wasn’t, and I saw my whole presentation tilt forward as the bow started to slide below the waves (without an iceberg in sight).
What I really wanted was an audience that could hear my message, and what I had was a group of participants being increasingly distracted by one lady stuffing her hands firmly in her ears in case I swore again.
Inclusion, not exclusion
I had come to talk about self-leadership, a core competency of which is being able to include the opinion of those who disagree, without surrendering to their disagreement.
Was there a way I could fix this situation, and promote my purpose in the process? Could I allow myself to be publicly wrong and maintain authority as the workshop leader?
I took a deep breath, uplifting my posture, and as I exhaled softly, I took a moment to put my swearing into perspective. I didn’t agree with her – I don’t think that saying “shitty” is the end of the world. There were people in the audience dropping the F-word loud enough for everyone to hear. Would responding to her discomfort be compromising my beliefs, or be considered an act of weakness?
Then I got in touch with my purpose again: promoting self-leadership, including the ability to include those who don’t agree. In the pause that breath gave me, I mentally stepped into her shoes.
I could see that she wanted to be comfortable in my audience, and that she hoped that I would behave a certain way as leader of the workshop. And, in seeing that, I knew that I could fulfill those expectations and lead in the way I chose; there was no conflict there.
Fixing the leak
I spoke with her in front of the group: I apologised for offending her and reassured that I would choose my words more carefully going forwards. As I did so I stood tall and held in mind my desire for everyone, including her, to get as much as they could out of the workshop, and I knew that I had just made it possible for her to join in again.
Going through the following steps rescued my seriously sinking ship, and gave us a live example of the type of leadership that I was promoting to them. Double win!
Breathing in an uplifted posture
When something goes wrong and catches your breath, put your feet firmly on the floor shoulder width apart, and breathe up as if drawing air from the ground to inflate your back with dignity and provide an uplifted and noble posture. Let the exhale soften your chest on the way out.
Re-connecting with purpose
Bring to mind your purpose, and notice whether the mutual sticking point is obstructing you. Confirm that your goal is important enough to you.
Stepping into their shoes
Leave your position for a moment to see things from their point of view. Really get curious about their stance, their concerns, hopes and fears. Ask yourself what’s in the way of them joining you.
Stating a desire to move forwards together
I don’t know right now how we can move forwards together, but it is my intention that we find a way to do so, even as we hold different points of views concerning this apparent obstacle. I am willing to work with you to that end.
Catching my breath
Pausing under pressure returned me to my purpose. It gave me a solid foundation to reach out from and re-floated my sinking ship. Making the move to include a difficult or disagreeable partner is not giving in, but improves the chances of getting the message heard. That’s something worth playing with!
If this sounds a familiar situation for you, too, you might like to spend some time with me studying ways to grow your capacity to include others’ points of view, both respectfully and effectively. I offer group and one-to-one coaching in Leadership Embodiment which uses the body to deepen your capacity to be present with conflict (whether inter- or intra-personal). Contact me to book a free, no-obligation consultation. I’d love to learn how you stick with difficult situations, and to see what possibilities that makes available to you.