Chances are that you’ve seen the following happen more than once: A colleague builds a beautiful case to support his recommendation. Then comes the relentless questioner who pummels him with questions that seem to have nothing to do with the core case, and the colleague limps to a close as if he’d been attacked by war planes rather than stung by a B-B gun.
If you haven’t experienced this in real life, you’ve certainly seen it on TV press conferences.
People ask hostile questions for any number of reasons:
- They disagree with what you have said or have wrong information.
- You have not established credibility with them.
- They’ve misunderstood you.
- They think they are “saving the day” for everyone else or their entire organization.
- Their personality makes them always look for the cloud in every silver lining.
- They are angry with someone else and are taking it out on you—consciously or unconsciously.
Whatever the reason, your presentation success and credibility often rides on your ability to remain unruffled and walk away from the situation on a positive note with an air of confidence. Here are three tips that can help you do just that.
Rephrase a Legitimate Question… Minus the Hot Words and Hostile Tone
If the question is, “Why are you demanding that we submit these forms with an approval signature? I think that’s totally unreasonable,” try rephrasing it to emphasize its validity, and then respond:
“Why do we think the forms should have an approval signature? Well, first of all, the approval signature allows us to. . . .”
Don’t feel that you have to refute an opposing view in great detail, particularly if the hostile view is not well supported itself. Simply comment: “No, I don’t think that’s the case.” No elaboration is necessary.
Your answer will sound authoritative and final and will make the asker appear rude and argumentative if he or she rephrases and continues.
1) Upgrade the Tone
Avoid matching hostility with hostility; try to maintain a congenial tone and body language. The audience almost always will side (or at least respect and empathize) with the person who remains calm and courteous. Keep in mind that how you answer questions will be remembered more clearly and for much longer than what you say.
2) Acknowledge and Accept Feelings
Try to determine possible reasons for any hostility. By acknowledging and legitimizing the feelings of the asker, you may defuse the hostility and help the other person receive your answer in a more open manner.
Examples: “It sounds as though you’ve been through some difficult delays with this supplier” or “I don’t blame you for feeling as you do, given the situation you describe. I’m just glad that has been the exception rather than the rule in working with this audit group.”
3) State Your Own Experience and Opinion
People can argue with your statistics, data, surveys, and facts indefinitely. But they cannot argue with your experience. It’s yours, not theirs.
After you’ve listened and acknowledged their opinion and feelings, feel free to end by stating your own in a non-confrontational way. “My experience has been different. Based on X, Y, and Z, it’s my opinion that ABC approach will work in our situation.” Then break eye contact and move ahead.
Your audience will take their final cues from you. Make them positive.
About the Author:
Booher Consultants, a communications training firm, works with business leaders and organizations to increase effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and enterprise-wide communication. Founder Dianna Booher is the author of 46 books, published in 26 languages. Recent titles include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate With Confidence! The Revised and Expanded Edition. For more information, visit www.Booher.com
Copyright © Booher Consultants; article used with permission.