Just as juxtaposition of hard and soft can be a beautiful way to express your style, using softness to convey an inflexible message can be hugely powerful as a communication tactic.
Many times people, especially women, want to lead with softness or with hints. And sometimes, your conversational partner does not pick up on these cues or they may not take your soft requests seriously. This is the type of situation in which it is powerful and useful to be able to give someone the truth without upsetting them.
The ideas here are the same as those strategies in Aikido that help you redirect someone’s energy where you want.
1. Begin with empathy.
Exercise your ability to imagine what the world looks like from their eyes. Do what you can to connect with their feelings. Ask questions to help you understand what’s in their mind.
This can be challenging when you are dealing with behavior that is inappropriate or even threatening, and the idea is to suspend judgement. This will allow you to interact with your conversational partner on a human level.
Furthermore, ask the person for what is really at the root of this issue. Express concern that they are acting desperately in some way. This shows that you’re not willing to engage in the inappropriate interaction that they had in mind, and that you are willing to listen to what really matters to them.
2. Come out with it.
If someone is acting inappropriately, disrespectfully, or even threateningly, it’s important to meet the challenge head on. Therefore, come out and say “this conversation is inappropriate” or “this situation feels threatening.” This out-in-the-open tactic has a few uses.
The first possible outcome is your conversational partner did not realize they were acting in an inappropriate manner. In that case, you can inform them of what’s going on and they will likely stop the behavior.
The second outcome is that calling your conversational partner out for being inappropriate we’ll be enough to get them to stop the behavior.
Finally, if your conversational partner is not willing to acknowledge that their behavior is out of line, or if they do acknowledge it but won’t stop, you know it’s time to take further action, including ending the interaction or calling in reinforcements of some kind.
3. Be clear with consequences, and apart from them.
Tell your conversational partner clearly what the consequences of continued bad behavior would be. Disconnect yourself from this process. Phrase this as requirements on you: “I am required to report…” or “if someone…, I need to…”. This puts the responsibility on the person you’re speaking with to decide what end they would like.
4. End with empathy.
Let the person know that you’re not against them; you’re on their team. Tell them that you want to help them when they are more ready to talk with you.
Overall, be very firm with what is expected of everyone in the situation, and approach these expectations with kindness, empathy, and concern.