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Get off my back;Career development;Features amp; Arts

Tired of being attacked but don't know how to respond? Godfrey Holmes explains.

Teachers can be belittled by colleagues - in corridors or staffrooms, in playgrounds or in front of a class. The worst culprits are over-critical headteachers, unkind heads of department, and belligerent Office for Standards in Education inspectors. But angry parents and peers can be just as spiteful or hurtful.

Rather than fear belittlement, rather than accept it too readily or reply to it too angrily, you can learn constructive responses. And, believe it or not, you can practise them in bed or in front of a mirror and then catch your adversary unawares.

* Learn to say: "I do not understand." Forget whether you understand what has been said or not. Your colleague has no way of knowing. He or she has to go ahead with an explanation. And that helps take the sting out of what is being said.

* Ask your colleague: "Could you repeat that?" Asking for a re-play works wonders, especially if the person is short of time, or if he or she has gone to great trouble to say it all the first time. Amazingly, the words are never exactly the same second time round.

* Make the request: "I wonder if we can stop at that point." Just like a tape-recording. Again, this request is difficult to turn down. It gives you, the respondent, valuable opportunity to clarify something.

* "Permission to speak." This catch-phrase, probably from Dads' Army, would not be so powerful if it did not show up the rival or bore. You often find another teacher in a tirade, gathering a head of steam. This is the best time to interrupt.

* "Those daffodils look lovely!" We are used to children changing the subject, but we expect adults to have more discipline. Changing the subject speedily reduces tension.

* Take up personal space. Adversaries pride themselves on being surrounded by an invisible space they call their own. So encroach upon it. Move behind the headteacher's shoulder. Move your chair alongside. Stand when he or she is sitting.

* Refuse to be bounced. Displeased colleagues expect an immediate reply. Perhaps an aggrieved parent has just written in, perhaps a pupil has burst into tears, perhaps your lesson-plan is not up-to-date. The way to counter being bounced into a confession or an explanation is to request more time:

"I'll go away and think about it"; "I'll let you know tomorrow"; "I need to consider the implications of what you've just said..."

* Slip in a simple "I"-statement: "I am quite knocked over"; "I have obviously come along at the wrong time". The beauty of "I"-statements is that they cannot be contradicted. I like: "I tire."

* Take meticulous notes. It does not matter what you write in your diary or notebook. The very act of writing so much down will annoy or distract your adversary. Will it go to the union? Will it become a transcript? Will it be quoted back? The steamroller flattens. Note-taking is a signal of resistance.

* Stonewall. If all else fails you can use one-word answers or monosyllables. You can be generally unresponsive, letting your colleague have only the bare minimum to keep him or her satisfied. There is no point whatsoever supplying your own rope.

When you've exploited these 10 responses, try others - such as stopping sentences halfway through, asking to go to the washroom, seeking the advice of another colleague, or whispering. Never be intimidated. Live to see another day.

Godfrey Holmes's 'Your Conversation - or Mine? Two Hundred Tactics when Talking' is published by Nethermoor Books pound;2.95

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