- Do you interact regularly with someone who constantly puts you down and belittles what you say?
- What about someone who generally throws their weight around and leaves you feeling intimidated?
- Do you get nasty personal remarks from your boss rather than constructive feedback?
Everyone makes mistakes, lashes out in the moment, and can be rude or insensitive, but when behaviour like this happens repeatedly, no matter how “grown up” you are, you can be left feeling belittled, marginalised or insignificant and you need to do something about it. There are many different approaches to dealing with bullies and this short article focuses on just one – how to keep calm using imagery. The tools are particularly useful for “in the moment” relaxation when you can’t avoid the person or the situation.
a) Protective screen. In your mind’s eye create a screen or wall that protects you from what the other person says or does. It can be impenetrable to keep you safe or it can block the insults while letting through the useful information. It can even come with volume and brightness controls that you adjust at will. Whatever suits you best. My son, uses the same special power as the daughter in the film “The Incredibles” and, in a flash, imagines a clear, protective dome around him and sees words bouncing off it. He even makes a “boing” noise in his head to make it even more effective.
b) Catch it, bin it, kill it. Remember the Swine Flu Advert we had here in the UK which told us to catch it, bin it, kill it? Imagine catching the comment in your outstretched hand. Holding it there and examining it. Be curious and look to see if there’s anything in what the other person is saying. Keep what might be useful learning and toss the rest in an imaginary bin.
c) Thought switching. It’s hard to hold two conflicting thoughts in your mind at the same time.
Thought-switching is another way to bring instant calm using imagery. Keep a mental list of relaxing places, events or people in your mind that you can call on whenever you need to feel calmer. It might be a favourite or peaceful place, a fun event, a special achievement or a calming or supportive friend. Switch your unhelpful or stressful thoughts and replace them with these images. If you struggle to remember your list, then keep a photo or some other physical reminder to help your recall.
The more you practice these three tools, the easier, quicker and more effective they’ll become.
What works for you in stressful situations that you can’t avoid?
Today I’ve conducted 5 coaching sessions with managers and there is a pattern running through all of them. A feeling of being overwhelmed, stressed and lacking any control over their own destiny. This isn’t surprising given that the managers are from various companies going through redundancies, re-organisations and other major changes. However, just because it is a normal response to imposed change it doesn’t mean we have to feel helpless. The challenge is to focus on the parts that are within our control rather than waste precious time and energy on things outside it.
Stress happens when there is a mismatch between the demands being placed on us and our perceived resources to meet those demands. When we are not challenged enough we are in danger of rust out (I don’t see as much of that these days) and when the demands are greater than our perceived resources we risk burn out.
According to Ross and Altmaier in “Intervention in Occupational Stress” stress management is a decision making process and there are only 3 choices to make. We can:
Alter it – by changing something in how we approach our work, e.g. problem solving, clearer communication, better planning.
Avoid it – by removing ourselves from the situation or not getting into it in the first place, e.g. walking away, having clear boundaries, saying no, or even leaving the organisation.
Accept it – by building our resilience to it, e.g. self care, support systems, identifying goals and values, and by changing our unhelpful beliefs and perceptions about the situation or ourselves.
Which choices are you making? They may not be ideal, but they are choices, and they are yours.