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Dog RollingThere are so many great lessons we learn as children. Do you remember stop, drop and roll? It is one of the first simple safety techniques that we are taught that helps extinguish a fire on our clothes or hair without using any other conventional firefighting equipment. It is a powerful psychological tool that gives us a routine and helps to keep us focused avoiding panic and confusion in a potentially dangerous situation. So why don’t we use that same approach to other aspects of life, like our challenging projects and those difficult stakeholders?

You have just encountered the project bully. The bully is pushing your buttons and smells of passive aggressive behavior. The bully praises their own efforts on the project in a meeting and at the same time brings your abilities and analysis efforts into question. Hmm… So what do you do? Often it is human nature that takes over and unfortunately, we give them exactly what they want – a big reaction. This reaction just makes them feel more important and powerful than ever. It rewards them for bad behavior. What can you do? STOP!

In “stop” the first thing you need to do is simply be still; physically and emotionally. Get calm and do not fan the flames of the bully. It will just make the fire grow faster. It also can handcuff those we work with who might actually be able to help in that situation. If you simply remain still it will give you the time you need to develop a plan of action and respond appropriately. The “stop” piece makes sense. Now what? DROP!

In “drop” when you are on fire you literally drop to the ground, lying down if possible and cover your face to prevent injury. In the case of our bully, you must protect yourself as well. You can do this by first not taking the bait. When we take the bait we look like the monster not them. Secondly, just don’t take it personally. I know it is hard not to, but if you do, you might react in a way the bully wants. Recognize that it is their behavior, not yours. Create a temporary shield that deflects the bully’s attempts. Once you drop you must ROLL!

In “roll” the fire victim rolls around on the ground extinguishing the fire by depriving the fire of oxygen. In the case of your bully you cannot literally deprive them of oxygen (we know how that story ends and it is not pretty), but you can do some things to extinguish their inappropriate behavior. Strong agendas with clear objectives and goals leave them less wiggle room. Ground rules to manage behavior works quite well. Give them meaningful tasks in meetings that keep them productive and active with no time for passive aggressive behavior.

Stop, drop and roll can be a powerful habit to form and a great tool for your toolbox. It can be even more powerful when you combine it with other tools too! So next time you meet the bully, STOP! DROP! ROLL!

7 thoughts on “STOP! DROP! ROLL!

  1. Great advice Bob. Giving difficult customers a role in the meeting works – but be careful about giving them a scribe role because they can use that to take over the meeting (I’ve actually had to take the pen back a few times!). It’s hard not to just react to the bait when running from meeting to meeting. It helps to end meetings 5 minutes early, even if it means not completing the agenda, just to take a breath. Some other tips I’ve found useful are scheduling time with difficult customers one on one before the meeting setting expectations and discussing their concerns. This helps defuse possible areas of conflict before the meeting. And, asking the group if they need a break helps to take the attention away from the difficult customer by redirecting to the rest of the group. Also, some folks need a cooling off period before they can participate meaningfully again. In certain cases ending the meeting is appropriate too – especially if someone in the meeting is reacting defensively to the bully. I’m not saying don’t allow conflicts to arise and be discussed, just step in if it’s starting to get personal or off the topic.

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