Whether it’s the questionable behavior of a senior partner, running into another candidate for the job you want, or crossing paths with someone pitching the same account you just pitched, speaking with the enemy can be a tough challenge. Rather than seeing red, reacting in a defensive mode, or saying something you might regret, try the tips below to get centered and stay calm!

Be Prepared

While we don’t encourage full-tilt paranoia, we do suggest that you be aware of the situations in which you might run into folks you’d rather not see. In the case of pitch meetings, interviews or a snarky co-worker, just knowing you might see them can provide a layer of emotional protection for you that can keep you from being reactive – or over-reactive. No need to dwell on this point, simply keep it real with yourself so you can be mentally and emotionally prepared for an interaction.

Stay Neutral

When you do see that person in the hallway or waiting room, shift into an emotionally neutral space. You don’t have to like them or fake your way through an awkwardly “nice” interaction. Do what you can to set aside past transgressions, fears about future battles, and focus on this moment. All you need to do is successfully navigate a polite exchange. In most cases, you want to be the person who approaches. Taking action will help reduce your stress level and erase the question of whether you’ll have to talk to this person. Though every situation is different, you will likely do well by putting a pleasantly neutral expression on your face and offering a generic greeting. Try something like, “Hi Tim, looks like we’re pitching the same account. It could be a really challenging/interesting/innovative project. Good luck!” Often times the other party will be pushed a little off balance by your pleasantries. While this is gratifying, focus more on the fact that you acknowledged them, had a successful interaction, and can now move forward.

Take the High Road

Whenever possible, take the high road. Don’t be the person who gets caught telling negative stories, spreading rumors or disparaging another. If you must, vent to a person who has no vested interest in the players at hand. Talk to your sister in another state or your coffee buddy in a different industry. No matter how tempting it is to dish the dirt on what they were wearing, how they responded to your greeting, or whether you think they’ll get the contract, don’t do it. Keeping your own council in these kinds of situations will save you and your team from downstream implications.

Respond with Grace

In the unlikely event that an enemy attacks you directly and in person, stay calm. Listen to what they are saying. Don’t prepare your response or imagine pushing them down the stairs. Just listen. They are expecting you to fight back, they want a reaction from you. Instead, if at all possible, provide a graceful response such as “It sounds like you’re very upset about this issue,” or “That’s a lot to consider.” Let them have their say. Then find a quiet place to gather your thoughts, sort through your emotions and get to the reality of the situation. Finally, once you’re calm and have sorted through all the pertinent facts, take appropriate steps to follow up.

Finding your own peaceful path around adversaries will help you at work and in the world. Whether you’re navigating a fierce competition for business or struggling with your cranky in-laws, give yourself time and space before engaging. If you can keep your wits about you and keep your eye on the prize, speaking with the enemy can be just another conversation.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson


Cover of Amber Nelson's book, "Talk to Me"

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