“I need a pep talk, girls! I’ve just come out of the worst meeting ever and I’ve got one more to go. It was full of alpha dominants. I was the only voice of reason. Give me some nuggets of wisdom ASAP.”
The text pings on my phone. I empathise with how desperate my friend feels in this moment. I imagine her in an elegant Karen Millen trouser suit surrounded by obnoxious individuals hunched around the boardroom table, jabbing their Mont Blancs as they express objectionable views with a healthy dose of afternoon coffee halitosis.
My friend retreats to the lavatory, splashes cold water on her face, wipes away smudged Kohl with toilet paper and dabs lavender essential oil onto her wrists. She stares at her reflection in the mirror as she takes a few breaths, praying for some kind of divine intervention. Then she swivels on her Escada sling backs and heads back to the board room.
You’ve been there right? Maybe the scenario was a little different but feeling on the backfoot, like you don’t fit in and anxious are the same?
I sure have. I’ve sat in big formal meetings finding it harder and harder to get my words out. The less I say, the more I freeze. The worse I feel. Then the self-criticism starts. How can I, a grown woman, who feels at ease chatting with a group of friends, sit here like a door mouse? What kind of hypocrite am I? I get frustrated with myself. I feel even worse.
Or at least I did until… these tips.
I propel myself onto the sofa in my tracksuit bottoms and over-sized jumper and dash off an emergency response.
“Yo! You asked for some tips on getting through a killer meeting. Here they are:”
Firstly, think about this fact. You are not alone.
However isolated and outnumbered you feel, you are not alone with this experience. According to Gestalt Group Theory and System Centred Theory (Agazarian, Y), there is no such thing as an isolated experience in a group. Gestalt writer and therapist Carl Hodges writes:
“whatever comes up for one member ‘internally’ or ‘externally’ emerges from the group…whatever you’re feeling in a group, given the shared ground, chances are that at least one other person is feeling or experiencing something similar. If you ‘voice’ your feeling, issue, difficulty, you may be a voice for a part of the whole.
This means at least one crisp-shirted alpha-dominant participant was secretly wiping clammy hands. Whether they had the guts to speak up? Now that’s another question. Evidently, they didn’t or you would’ve had their support. But it can be comforting to know you weren’t alone with your thoughts and feelings. And sometimes, when we take the risk of speaking up, we act as leaders. Our courage encourages others and before we know it, we have a sub-set of people with the same opinion, and we start to have some influence. This is what Yvonne Agazarian, the architect of Systems -Centred therapy calls ‘subgrouping’. Yup, that’s when we get the conversation ball rolling back in our court!
Secondly, think on this…. you can empower your mind through your body!
Sensorimotor therapy (Ogden, P and Fisher, J) understands that the body, mind and emotions are connected in a feedback loop. When we experience powerlessness we often feel energetically low and highly anxious. To counter this, you can experiment with lengthening your spine. Try sitting or standing straighter. This helps to regulate the nervous system and balances energy. The movement in our body sends signals to our brain to either energise or calm down. In this way we feel more in control and more able to hold the gaze of the boardroom buffoons. Perhaps we even play with a little smile at the corner of our tinted cinnamon glossed lips.
Connecting with your core is another Sensorimotor technique. You do this by pulling your tummy in, just like you do in a Pilates class, so you get a nice solid feeling in your middle. Try it now and see how it feels? It shouldn’t’ feel like a work out. But just see what it’s like to lengthen your spine and pull your tummy in. Notice how you feel before you try this and then try it. Once you’ve done it at home you can try it in the meeting for a few seconds. Then relax and notice how you feel in your body and emotionally afterwards. Just doing this as I type this response, I feel more open and uplifted in my chest.
Squaring off your shoulders is something else you can try if you need to match the testosterone fuelled energy in the meeting room. Do this whilst you lengthen your spine, pull in your tummy and take back control!
Thirdly, reframe your experience as a ‘part’ of you.
The feeling of powerlessness in the boardroom doesn’t define you. According to the theory of Structural Dissociation (Van der Hart et al), we all have different parts or aspects of us. How we act at work differs from how we are with a partner or with friends. Reframing your powerlessness as a ‘part’ that gets triggered helps you to feel less out of control.
Then ask, “what does this part need to feel better?” You can imagine it as a younger part of you. Does it need to feel strong? Does it need to feel like it belongs? Does it need to feel safe?
Let’s say my triggered part feels powerless. I start by remembering a time when I felt influential. I gave a speech at my university graduation and audience members came up afterwards, eager to get to know me.
Using a technique from EMDR therapy (Shapiro, F), bring this positive memory to mind as vividly as possible. If it’s an image of a family gathering, imagine the room, the smells, the tastes and the quality of the light. Notice where you feel the good feeling in your body. When it’s strong you can tap alternately on one knee and then the other up to 15 times. You can repeat this 3 to 5 times.
The bi-lateral stimulation reinforces the neural networks connected to power. Visualising activates them and tapping helps to strengthen them. A bit like adding extra voltage to the lights on the Christmas tree so the glow brighter.
But what if I’ve never felt powerful? That doesn’t matter. Can you think of someone else? It can be either a person you know or someone you don’t know at all like Barack Obama or Angela Merkel. Then carry on with the visualisation as above.
Once you’ve tapped this image in, you can bring it to mind before the meeting. Or even in the middle of the meeting for a second or two. Don’t worry, you don’t need to tap after the first time! Although tapping in itself activates the parasympathetic nervous system and some of my clients confess to using it in meetings!
If things get critical, what’s to stop you popping to the restroom and recalling the resource image as you lengthen your spine and pull in your core?
So there you have it, three tips to nail that killer meeting. Make sure to try them in the spirit of ‘experimenting’ and not something you can get wrong. Even getting a bit of relief is positive and the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Go get ‘em, girlfriend! Relish the moment when all eyes are shining on you with respect and admiration. Enjoy the warm, uplifting yet calm feeling inside as you realise you’ve just nailed-that-meeting-once-and-for-all!
Oh, and don’t forget to let me know how it went. Nothing like sharing in on a power trip 😉
Agazarian, Y, M (2006), “ Systems- Centered Practice”, Karnac, London.
Hodges C. (2003), “Creative processes in Gestalt group therapy”, in Spagnuolo Lobb M., Amendt-Lyon N. (eds.), Creative license: the art of Gestalt therapy, New York, Springer.
Ogden, P and Fisher, J, (2015), “Sensorimotor Psychotherapy”, New York, Norton.
Shapiro, F (2001), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures. New York, Guildford Press.
Van der Hart, Nijenhuis & Steele, (2006) “The Haunted Self: Structural Dissociation and the Treatment of Chronic Traumatisation. New York, Norton.