We will have to attend meetings with people who we perceive to be much more powerful than ourselves: doctors, scientists, managers, commissioners, policy makers. It can be really hard and scary.
I was really thrilled when Elisabeth Crafer agreed to facilitate a session on how to deal with people in authority at the UKCAB treatment activists training.
Elisabeth used to lead the organisation where I work now, when it was still called Positively Women. She has a long experience in activism from fighting apartheid in the 60s and 70s in her home country South Africa to provide Sexual Health Services to marginalised women in the UK through a mobile clinic and much more. She has played a huge influence in me as an activist, in developing my skills and confidence, and it was even her idea that I started this blog.
So here are some of the ideas Elisabeth shared with us on how to deal with people in positions of power, I hope you find them useful, and if you have something to add to it, I would love to hear how you deal with people in authority.
1) Think about how you behave in relationships to those close to you: parents, children, friends, colleagues. There may be similarities with how you behave with people in authority. What is easy, what is difficult?
2) Think about how you would like to come across in a meeting, and be aware of it.
3) Very often in a meeting we enact a ‘dramatic’ triangle in which somebody plays the ‘ victim’ somebody else the ‘persecutor’ and a third person the ‘rescuer”. Observe which role you are playing. How is this role limiting you?
4) If something goes out of control, for example somebody plays the victim and has a tantrum. Stand back. Don’t play the game. Do nothing.
5) If you find it hard to get a word in and put your point across, as everybody is talking on top of you (believe me I have been there!) watch body language, so that you can tell when somebody finishes a sentence. They have to pause at one time, and you have to come in then.
6) Don’t breath in before starting to speak because in a heated discussion somebody will speak while you pause to take a breath. Start taking the breath in while the other person is still talking and then just jump in.
7) Ask yourself: do I have a point? Do i have something to add to the discussion? Then you can start your sentence with “ I would just like to add something to …”
8) Ask somebody to clarify and build on their point., sometimes it is good to repeat and amplify a point if it helps what you are trying to put across.
9) Sometimes the meeting is not the most important thing. It is more important what happens in the break or after on the way out, in the ‘interstices’. Who are you going to talk to? How are you going to build your alliances? Are there going to be doughnuts…? It is while eating the doughnuts, in the down time, that some of the most important discussions happen. Pay attention.
10) Remember: authority is about power. The essential thing about authority is that the power is unequal. Reflect: “ How do I behave when I do not have power?”
11) Think about unequal relationships in your life: parent and child, employer employee. Examine in in what role you may have authority/power. For example as patient representative, parent, office manager. Remember also running a home needs to be done from a role of authority. Experience gives authority as well as knowledge. Very often we show authority in the way our parents have shown us authority.
12) Have a strategy, think: “What do I want out of the meeting, how can I achieve it.?”