Twice, on the same day, two executives, from two companies, from two states, asked me the same question: "How do you respond to someone in a meeting who says to you, 'Shut up and listen!'?"
There is no easy answer, especially when that person in one case is the president of the company and in the other case is a peer in a cross-functional meeting, a peer with whom you compete for resources and decisions.
When someone attacks us in an unequal conversation, we need to know we do have choice. We can attack, defend, or communicate. The best communication might be to exit the conversation.
I asked the executive whose peer had told him to "shut up and listen" how he had responded.
He said, "I told him, No! You Shut Up and Listen." Then I asked him, 'At that point, did the meeting move forward or were the rest of the participants watching the fight, picking sides?"
He answered with a question: "What are you supposed to do when someone attacks you?"
My answer: "Make a choice from exit strategies."
When we are under personal attack, a strong silent response is a possibility. Get up quietly and leave the meeting. Say nothing. No one has a right to attack our self-esteem publicly.
Another executive with whom I had discussed the same issue did exactly that. He got up and left the room.
I asked him, "What was the reaction from the others?"
"No one ever said a word," he said, "then or afterwards. It was like it never happened Ð and the individual never yelled again."
A second possibility is to turn to the meeting manager and say, "I need your help. I'm not accustomed to being talked to like that. I'll find it difficult to remain here if I'm attacked again."
Another silent response would be to do just what was asked. Be silent. Shut up and listen. Look at the executive in a focused, confident way and say nothing to him again Ð for the rest of the meeting. Respond to no further statements or discussions throughout the meeting, even asked, but be intently interested. Silence may be the most powerful tool we have. People often get very comfortable Ð even feeling guilty Ð when we do exactly as they ask! If someone asked why you were not taking part, the answer would be "I was told to shut up and listen."
©2002 Peter deLisser. All rights reserved.