A good friend recently relayed to me a story about a meeting that started off on a wrong footing and ended with the client storming off .... listening to the story it was clear that the client was in the wrong but the story made me wonder about whether there was something my friend could have done to avert the ensuing situation from taking place without there being any loss of face for either the client or my friend.
Our first response to a verbal assault - whether valid or not - is normally to counter-respond with heightened tone, aggressive "in your face" body language and then one's own verbal barrage in self-defence of what has just been said.
The value of the momentary pause between hearing an attack and reacting to it should never be under-estimated. Not only does the momentary pause give one an opportunity to take control of oneself in the situation, but a pause of silence also give the other person an opportunity to contemplate what they have just said and to either retract, soften the words or explain themselves further if necessary.
The old adage of "it takes two to tango" is no where more applicable then in the scenario of conflict. By engaging in the pause one is in fact allowing oneself the choice to decide on whether to step into or away from the issue of conflict. Not every verbal assault or harsh and pointed comment needs or should be dignified with a response, but every person should in fact be given the opportunity to clarify what they are saying and where they are coming from. It is at this juncture that a simple question or statement requesting clarity of what was just said such as "I beg your pardon ?" or "Please could you explain what you are saying" is often the mercy stroke ending what could be a unfortunate and avoidable breakdown of relations.
It goes without saying that hindsight is a wonderful thing giving us 20/20 vision. In my friend's case, the client is gone and it is unlikely that he will ever come back. All is however not lost. Turning the perfection of hindsight into practical insight and applying the power of the pause ... and then the question to those potentially explosive situations will go a long way in maintaining good relations with even the most difficult and demanding of people.