Today I'm answering a question about freezing up and feeling dumb in front of colleagues.
I like to think things through before I speak, and I’m shy in public. This makes department meetings hard for me, as I feel put on the spot when our supervisor calls on me. Often what comes out of my mouth isn’t phrased as well as I’d like, and I leave the meeting wishing I could call a do over. I seem to think of what I should have said as soon as I leave the meeting.
I told this to my supervisor and he said, “You have good thoughts. You just need more confidence. In fact, you need practice speaking up.”
Oh, no, I thought, this will make him more likely to call on me, and I became very anxious when the next meeting started. When he did call on me, I fumbled through what I wanted to say. My coworker who doesn’t like me,muttered, “Dumb and dumber,” under his breath and the employees sitting next to him laughed.
I totally shut down.
Help! I need a good comeback for situations like these.
You’re not alone. Lots of people freeze when they're put on the spot, particularly those who want to think things through first. Here’s how to come up with quick answers more easily – take a slow deep breath. When you breathe slowly and deeply, your right and left brain hemispheres work easily together, and you need both for quick answers. When meetings end and you walk off, you probably relax and breathe, and the good answer you’re capable of rises to the surface.
Even more important, you’re likely a predominantly left hemispheric person, who likes logic, problem-solving, and analysis. Predominantly right-hemispheric people thrive in situations full of emotion, creativity and intuition. Regardless, the activity of the moment pulls you into left or right hemispheric functioning.
In this case, anxiety and being put on the spot pulled you into your right hemisphere, where you reacted and lost easy access to language, a left hemispheric function.
Next, you need to stop giving insulting jerks like your coworker so much power. He attacks you partially because that's who he is, and partially because you let him get to you. In doing so, you turn a momentary chuckle into a showstopper.
The next time he mutters, ignore him. After all, when he calls you “dumb” he doesn’t prove that you lack brains; he simply proves he’s an employee with the need to make stupid comments under his breath. What could be “dumber” than that?
The most important comeback you need is an internal one. When you let coworkers shut you down, you play his game and call him the victor. You can of course, prepare an arsenal of memorized phrases to have at the ready the next time he messes with you. For example, a casual, “Not dumb enough to take your bait,” would nicely turn the tables on him and get you your own laugh. Or you could say, “OK, my office, 3 o’clock.” If he asks, “What do you mean?” you can say, “You mutter a lot. I want to give you the chance to say whatever it is, out loud and to my face.”
Finally, your supervisor may be right, you just need practice.
© 2016, Lynne Curry. If you have a career questions you’d like Lynne to answer, write her @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Lynne is an executive coach and author of Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM & Solutions. You can follow Lynne through her other posts on sheknows.com, via www.workplacecoachblog.com, www.bullywhisperer.com™ or @lynnecurry10 on Twitter.
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