This week I worked with a group that I found really challenging. There was one man in particular who seemed to get under my skin and make me feel unsettled.
Initially I found him thoughtful. He would wait until others had finished speaking and then quietly offer a considered opinion. His energy was calm at these moments. However, any activity or discussion that went for more than about 15 minutes and he would be jiggling and fidgeting. The worst thing was that he then had this smirk on his face and would throw comments in that were only audible to the people sitting immediately near him. They would all laugh and then no one would make eye contact with me. I didn't know what was being said, but it didn't feel good.
During small group activities he continued this persona and it started to feel like mockery. The group around him seemed to like him and respond positively to whatever he was saying but he was actually taking the group away from their task.
He was doing my head in and I felt myself becoming snippy - I was sick to death of his smirking and just wanted to tell him to stop and take things seriously. I resisted. No purpose would be served by putting my stuff on the table in front of the group. I did however ask him to speak up so the whole group could hear his contributions. That slowed down the flow of comments but didn't remove the smirk.
I spoke to my cofacilitator about it. She wasn't having the same issue with him but she described him as "taking the piss". Yes! That's exactly what it felt like.
Overnight I examined what it was about his behaviour that was rattling my wind chimes. It was both simple and complex. Simply, I felt like he was mocking me, doing it in such a way that I couldn't call him on it without losing my authority in the group. On another level, the program was about leadership and the fact he didn't appear to be taking it seriously. He didn't have to be there. Sure, his employer had sent him, but it seemed that that was the only reason he was there.
Mockery is such a hard thing to deal with. It's a very effective way of putting someone off balance. Depending on the status of the person doing it within their group it can also be a weapon to wield or steal power. I think the man I encountered this week was stealing power.
So I did nothing about it. Whenever he would do it, I went into neutral body stance, listened and then offered no comments. After doing this a few times, his behaviour shifted. His focus turned to his peer group. It was almost as though he was looking to them for validation. They continued to respond, but he was getting nothing from me.
After two days of this, I was exhausted. I reflected and continued to wonder what it was about him that I had reacted to, but I also congratulated myself on being aware and not engaging with his behaviour.
What gets under your skin? Who gets under your skin? What do you do about it?