Early on in my career, I was working for a big consulting company, and my manager sent me off to a training that was called How To Deal With Difficult People. I was excited to go because I dealt with a lot of really difficult people. There were clients who wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. Support staff who seemed to not want to help me. I traveled a lot, and that meant dealing with unhelpful ticket agents and desk staff. I was truly excited to learn how to deal with all of these difficult people in my life more effectively!
You can imagine what a humbling experience it was to discover that the main message of that whole training was this:
If you’re finding yourself dealing with a lot of difficult people, you are probably the one being difficult.
The first step in handling these various difficult situations, it turned out, was to own the part I played in them.
That realization was important, but that particular training only gave me a few strategies. It left me craving a deeper understanding of how I could come across differently. I wanted better working relationships, and easier collaborations. I knew I had to make some changes, but I didn’t have a clear picture of exactly what to do differently.
Several years later, I came across a tool called SAVI®, the System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction. It was exactly what I needed. SAVI was created as an observation tool, to have an objective way of seeing what’s happening in a “human system” or group. It focuses on communication behaviors, categorizing them based on whether they make it more likely – or less likely – that the messages we mean to send are what’s likely to be received.
I found it completely enlightening. Using SAVI, I no longer had to wonder why some conversations went well and others went badly. I could see exactly what was happening. More importantly, I could identify specific behaviors and strategies I could use to turn those conversations around.
I especially loved that I wasn’t just trying to learn a bunch of unrelated strategies. There was an overarching framework – a logic – that tied them together. It helped me think differently about what to say and how to say it so that it could be heard – even if I was in a disagreement with someone or had a very different point of view from theirs.
SAVI became a core part of my work. I learned it, I studied it, I became certified to teach it. I applied it in my life – not only in my coaching and consulting work, but also in my family, as a parent, and even in my community in my homeowners association and other volunteer roles.
It’s not a stretch to say that SAVI has been one of the most important discoveries of my life.
It’s helped me deal with conflict, work through differences, and come across with more confidence and more gravitas. Now, people listen to what I have to say, and we’re able to work together to come up with creative solutions to our problems.
And even more importantly, knowing SAVI changed how I talk to myself.
It was relatively early on in my study of SAVI. I was at a weekend workshop with a bunch of my friends. The trainer invited us to apply the framework to the conversations that go on inside our own minds.
It was mind-blowing.
What I discovered (which I knew, of course, but had never seen in such stark terms) was that my internal dialogue was even more critical, even more harsh, even more impatient than anything I had ever dared to say to someone else. Even on my most impatient days, I was socialized enough to know better than to treat other people that badly.
The problem is that the way we talk to ourselves inside our own heads creates a communication climate. And that climate, that tone, influences how we interact with other people. That’s what was happening for me. As much as I was learning how to apply better communication strategies outside myself, inside I was still upset and mean, fighting out and lashing out against myself. With that going on, it was a lot of work to shift into a different tone with other people.
Once I figured this out, I could shift how I show up for myself, and then it became 20 times easier to shift how I showed up for other people.
That’s why when I work with my clients on executive presence, we start with your internal presence. We start with what’s happening inside of you. That way you can create an internal climate that mirrors the climate you want to create as a leader – engaging, innovative, creative, with room for mistakes and differences.
We create all of this inside you first so that you don’t have to be somebody different on the inside than you are on the outside. That, I have found from my own career, my own life, and for the clients that I’ve worked with, has made the biggest difference.
When you have an alignment and congruence between how you treat yourself and how you treat other people, it is much easier to show up in the world in a way that earns you respect, influence, and recognition – and the opportunities, jobs, and pay raises and everything else that goes with them.
If this is intriguing to you, something you’d like to know more about, there are a couple of different ways that you could do that:
- Join us for a SAVI training. Our next one is in April, on Giving and Receiving Feedback. You can learn more and register for that here.
- Talk with my team about how we can help you build your internal executive presence so that you can take your career to the next level. We’ll get on the phone with you for about 45 minutes, to explore where you are in your career right now and where you want to go. If we believe we can help you, we’ll let you know that, and share what it could look like to work together. Or if we’re not the right fit, we’ll do our best to point you to other resources. Either way, our goal is for you to get clarity about your next steps. Schedule your career breakthrough call here.
Either way, we would love to help you be someone who gets noticed, that people listen to, so you can get the kind of results that will propel your career to the next level – and do it in a way that feels good, where going to work is a genuine pleasure every day.
Here’s a video if you prefer to watch and listen to me talk about this topic: