How to keep your cool when someone threatens you at a meeting

Have you ever been in a high stakes meeting or in a conversation where someone challenges your position and you immediately start to feel the world closing in on you? Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl describes that moment this way: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It’s important to have actionable strategies when our thoughts take over and rule our actions. You are not your thoughts.

The Pause Café

When you feel anxious or aggravated practice what my clients and I call “The Pause Café.” It starts with a deep breath where you ask yourself, “What is going on with me?” Invite in the tension by being curious to it, not turning away. What we run from chases us down until we deal with it. Identify where the tension sits in your body. You may give it a color, or a smell, or a shape. Get familiar with it. In that space that Dr. Frankl references you can own what is happening. It doesn’t own you. There you can untangle your assumptions from the truth. The world opens up in that space – life is more than that one constricted issue. You begin to see a broader perspective. And the anxiety fades.

I keep an image that summarizes the steps of The Pause Café in a frame on my desk. It’s like having the relaxation of a European poolside café right at my disposal anytime. The Pause Café is a lot easier to pull out than a bolder when you need it – a lot more effective too. You can get a colorful summary of this strategy and frameable image that explains each step to keep in your office here.

I used the Pause Café just last week when someone overtly challenged my position at a meeting. Initially, I wanted a large bolder to appear out of the sky and drop right on his head – like in the cartoons. Then I realized that wasn’t being very mindful (nor was it a strategy I could execute so I better try something that would keep my presence yet get him to back down.) As I took a deep breath I noticed my heart racing and my chest felt tight. In that Pause Café moment I decided this wasn’t personal – just him wanting to be heard so I decided to validate him. Instead of reacting I asked him questions that disarmed his vehemence and made the conversation productive.

The Pause Café takes practice. Sometimes it works better than others but cumulatively your composure improves as you consistently work to eradicate your fight-or-flight response with this mindful strategy. The mind is like a muscle. It builds with practice.

Perfection is not the goal. Peace and efficacy are far more important. No judgment of yourself or others. Everyone is doing the best they can.