We have all found ourselves in situations that take us off guard. The surprise attack can look like a variety of scenarios. I’m sure we can all share many examples of the irate customer, dissatisfied client, or unhappy family member. Often it feels like a personal attack that seems to come out of nowhere.
My experiences interacting with diverse ages and kinds of people in professional and personal settings, has supported my understanding that the only thing during a surprise attack which I have control over is my response to whatever is happening around me. Reflecting on these experiences over time has enabled me to build a toolkit of empowering strategies that allow me to keep my head while someone else may be losing theirs. These strategies enable me to be as prepared as one possibly can, for inevitable future encounters.
It is integral to practice the strategies during times of calm. Practice allows you to access the strategies at the drop of a hat, when needed, rather than scrambling to think of something in the moment.
9 Strategies: Developing your Super Powers
Stay Centered and grounded
I have found it extremely important and powerful to remain centered during these situations. This can be challenging because the attacks often come out of left field, when you least expect it. Mindful centeredness takes some practice, and there are many ways to approach it. I remind myself to breathe into my core (Sacral Chakra), and remember to place my feet firmly planted on the ground. These two simple actions, bring a moment of pause to center and focus on next steps.
Know your values
In conjunction with remaining centered, I have spent some time thinking about what my core values are. I work very hard to keep aligned to them, even when the going gets tough. I believe in the midst of an uncomfortable situation is when it is most important to do so. Brené Brown says that, “living into our core values …means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk – we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.” You can access some exercises to discover your core values here. I liken it to the old adages about treating people how you would like to be treated. This can be easier said than done, but with practice mindfulness is, not only possible, but extremely empowering.
Respond vs react
Staying centered allows you to respond rather than react in the situation. Reacting gives the other person / people power over you. Respond by staying in alignment with your values. Discuss the topic or issue and refrain from hurling personal insults. I have found, especially during a verbal attack, asking questions and repeating what you heard is useful in grounding the situation. For example, What I am hearing is …. Or it sounds like your voice is elevated.
It is helpful to practice a few key phrases to have at the tip of the tongue. I learned this strategy from Marissa Peer. She has four suggested phrases that can be used to diffuse situations and puts the onus back on the other person. I wrote the phrases on sticky notes around my house in places I would see them, and left them there until I felt confident that I would be able to recall them when needed. See her short YouTube video here.
When applicable, the use of humor can also be disarming. In one instance I found myself being verbally attacked in a local gas station by someone who felt it was inconceivable that a bunch of “Indians” got a new school. At the time I was teaching in a school with a large majority of indigenous students. The school under went a well overdue upgrade / modernization. I used humor and facts to disarm the situation.
No response is a response
Sometimes no response, is the best response.
Do not own someone else’s opinion of you. You know yourself best. There is a quote that says “someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Hold to that. I use the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz as a guide post to not take things personally.
An important piece to remember is to honor yourself and take the time you need to heal. Remember all of your self-care practices and do what you need to do to brush yourself off, and get ready to head back into the arena.
After these incidents occur, I often find myself in need of reminder about the importance of extending grace. Sometimes these things happen and are a ‘one off’. We all have bad days. I like to believe that I extend grace to people because I will probably need grace extended to me at some point. It is always nice if the individual offers a sincere apology. I think Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, offers the best explanation of what a sincere apology looks like. However it is equally important to accept the apology ‘one might never get’ in order to move on and find peace.
Remembering to extend grace to self is important as well. If you do not meet your personal self-management expectations because you are caught off guard or just having a bad day, it’s OK. Acknowledge that you did the best you could in the moment, and reflect on an approach for next time that might make you feel more comfortable or aligned with yourself.
When to use which strategy
Knowing which strategy to use requires an intuitive approach. These situations usually take a person ‘off guard’. It’s OK to take a moment, I like to call it the ‘grounding space’, to assess the person and situation, and decide which approach to use.
Different strategies work for different people. It may take some research and time to discover the tools that work best for you. The good news is that as one becomes more empowered, the frequency of these situations should decline. All of these strategies really, at the heart of the matter, are helping you to set boundaries with the people you encounter. Teaching them how you expect to be treated.
It is important to discern when serious intervention is needed. If you notice a toxic pattern, please seek the appropriate interventions.
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Be well .