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Whenever we communicate with others, in business or private settings, we tend, especially under pressure or threat, to take one of the following roles – that of a Predator or Prey. This article, inspired by an online workshop recently held by Amy Carroll, a top-rated BMI lecturer and certified communication coach, outlines why it is best to avoid both of these roles and learn “Partner” behaviour techniques.
How to identify if you are a Predator or a Prey?
“A Predator is a person who is not afraid to conflict. They often have too much respect for themselves and not enough for others and can be described as arrogant, aggressive, or even intimidating. They demonstrate they have power over others and may keep themselves distant or standoffish,” says Amy Carroll.
Taking a closer look at their behaviour, they might speak in a condescending tone, with a fast pace and an impersonal manner, sounding bored or uninterested. Their blank facial expression does not give out any emotions, yet their raised eyebrows can communicate annoyance or aggression. Meanwhile, as the BMI lecturer notes, Predators may often interrupt others and regularly use negatives, such as ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t’, or ‘but’.
Prey, on the other hand, usually can be characterized as nice people who tend to show too much respect towards others and often not enough respect towards themselves.
“There is nothing wrong with their intention to bring harmony and make people feel safe around them, except that they do it at the cost of their own self-respect. These extremely likable, overly attentive, overly humble, and overly polite people are a great target for a Predator or bully,” Carroll remarks.
Common characteristics of Prey may include: avoiding eye contact, rambling, fidgeting, talking too rapidly, over smiling, or trying to ‘fill uncomfortable silences’. They also tend to speak with an upward inflection, making statements sound like questions. In this way they seek to build trust; in reality, they are “working too hard” and can trigger people to become Predators towards them. Preys’ speech is often full of qualifiers: ‘just’, ‘sort of’, ‘kind of’ ‘a little bit’, ‘basically’ – which, again, is a communicates uncertainty or lacking confidence.
Why neither Predators nor Prey are effective
Carroll, who teaches ‘The Art & Science of Executive Presence’ at BMI, stresses that neither Predators nor Prey can achieve a positive exchange of energy with others or effective long-term collaboration. Even if a Predator successfully achieves their short-term objective, they still fail to win people’s loyalty and maintain the relationship in the long run. As for Prey, their self-sacrifice may lead to a poor reputation, inferior results and worst of all, mistreatment.
“Being in a Predator-Prey dynamic means either enduring or putting up with (power over, power under), whereas practicing Partner behaviours allows us to share power, neutralize the power dynamic and solve problems that the Predator-Prey model continually reinforces,” she notes.
What are the attributes of a Partner?
According to the Amy, an ideal Partner image is created with a balance of Predators and Prey behaviours. They include the Predator’s competence behaviours and the likability behaviours of Prey. Competence communicates: “I can do the job. You can rely on me.” Likability communicates: “I will treat you as a human being. We will enjoy working together.” Putting them together creates a perfect Partner.
As the lecturer describes it: “When you communicate as a Partner, you are projecting confidence thanks to the direct eye contact, multiple pauses, and firm gestures. At the same time, a Partner does not forget to smile and address their interlocutor by their name to show respect. Unlike Prey, they use a downward inflection – their pitch goes from a higher to a lower note, translating finality, power, and certainty, which does not prevent them from making a joke when appropriate. There is no tension either in their forehead, arms, or stance.”
As a result, when interacting with others, a Partner achieves their desired outcome, so the behaviour and tactics described above do their job. Still, on some occasions collaboration, negotiation, and mediation will still not bring the desired result. In this moment, if an outcome is not mission-critical, it’s important a Partner accept this. Sometimes when results are disappointing, it can tempt a Partner to slip into Predator or Prey behaviours. For this reason, it is especially important to practice the Partner behaviours (in low stress moments) over and over until it goes from being mechanical to automatic and eventually create new brain pathways.
How to learn to behave like a Partner
It might be challenging to get out of the Predator-Prey model, yet practice makes miracles happen! Some of us jump from being a Predator or Prey, depending on the situation and the people in front of us.
The best advice is to start watching yourself and change your behaviour based on your observations. If you catch yourself acting like a Predator under pressure, smile more, soften your tone, bring upbeat energy, let yourself be interrupted. If you are acting more Prey, keep your body still, look people directly in the eyes, shorten your sentences, allow for silence. You will feel uncomfortable and resistant, just like we do when learning any new skill. Filming yourself can help with self-analysis and uncovering the points to work on.
Choose to have a high energy level and a great mood daily. Even if on some days you do not feel it internally, pretend that you do. Fake it until you make it, and you will see that it will pay off very soon!
Amy Carroll shares 6 tips that will help to develop a Partner mindset:
1. Start every relationship as if it is forever
There should be no difference who you are talking to – a taxi driver, a tech support person on the phone, an airport worker, or a waiter – always be friendly with others. Sometimes we are frustrated or in a rush, and the last thing we think about is how we behave with these people. We fail to understand that people can go above and beyond for us when they feel valued and treated with respect. More importantly, even if we don’t benefit from anything in that exchange, we are getting a workout by going to the Partner gym!
2. Make up a story why the other person is being difficult
This will allow you to feel empathy for the other person and help you keep a Partnering attitude. For instance, if you are driving and somebody cuts in front of you, instead of going Predator and thinking they did it on purpose, you can just come up with a story: “Maybe they’re running late for an appointment.” This is not meant to make excuses for their behaviour. It’s meant to help you shift back into Partner as quickly as possible. For example, if you have a colleague who has been rude to you, you might approach them directly: “Hi, I’d like to talk about the team meeting, where you made a comment which really bothered me.” If you first make up another story “perhaps he’s stress about the reorganization” it will be easier for you to stay Partner with them during this delicate conversation.
3. Remember that their reaction to us is all about them
When someone reacts to us positively or negatively, the good news is – it is all about them. The bad news is that when we react to someone, positively or negatively, it is all about us. No matter what they say, we always have a choice of how to react. The more awareness you have, the more power you gain to take ownership and responsibility for your own feelings and reactions.
4. Pretend not to notice when the other person is being difficult
The funny thing is that if you pretend you do not notice that somebody is being difficult, the other person will very often quickly recalibrate their behaviour. This way, you can “neutralize the verbal aggressor.” Pretending not to notice means your body, face, voice and words look and sound calm and relaxed. It will take time to master as you need to suppress the external fight or flight reaction.
This technique will be your lifesaver!
5. Think before you respond
It is a good idea to ask yourself: “If I say this, will it help or harm the relationship?” Then your common sense will show you the way to go ahead. If you are about to give advice, ask permission first. Even if it is your three-year-old trying to tie their shoes. The irony is that when we ask someone if they would like to hear our opinion or suggestion, there is a higher probability that the person will say yes.
6. Stay calm when you do not get what you want
Keep the Partner attitude especially when it gets tough and your intentions are not being achieved. It is highly possible that at a certain point magic will happen. The key is to stay friendly, cool-headed, and upbeat, even if you are angry and screaming inside. Eventually, your steadfastness can lead to your opponent changing their mind and turning the situation upside down in your favour!
* The Predator Prey or Partner® model is licensed content created by Pat Kirkland of Pat Kirkland Leadership Inc. Founded in 1990, PKL (patkirklandleadership.com) is a company with a purpose, the "soul" purpose of creating a world that works together better. Its business mission is to offer practical, powerful communication programs teaching people how to transform their work relationships by changing how they communicate.