www.wellsaid.com July 2014
Have you ever had to deal with a difficult person during a presentation or meeting? They attempt to stun, stump, or stall you by hurling a hostile question or comment your way. In Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip, I'm reminded of the crabby cynical character Lucy who scoffs at her little brother Linus, "You a doctor? Ha! That's a big laugh! You could never be a doctor! You know why? Because you don't love mankind, that's why!" The calm insightful Linus loses his temper and yells back, "I love mankind. It's people I can't stand!!!" Despite our human impulse to react to difficult people, responding effectively to them requires professionalism and tact. Please consider the eight tips below to ensure optimal outcomes with your next 'Lucy.'


Best wishes for your continued communication excellence, and thanks very much for your loyal readership. 


Kind regards,


8 Ways To Handle Hostile Questions and 

Difficult People


By Darlene Price, Well Said, Inc.

"You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist." 

--Indira Gandhi

Let's face it. Difficult audience members are a fact of life. They blame, attack, complain, whine, vent, nitpick, and even try to sabotage you. Rest assured, it is fully within your power to control and optimize these difficult situations. Instead of reacting with 'a clenched fist,' use one or more of these proven techniques to maintain your composure, confidence, and credibility.


1. Don't take it personally. Whatever question a person may ask, in whatever tone of voice, strive to de-personalize it right away. It's not about you. Another person's inappropriate behavior reveals something about them, not you. Say to yourself, "This is not about me," which helps keep your emotions calm and cool.


2. Empathize with the questioner. As Stephen Covey advises, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Don't become defensive or try to prove you're right and they're wrong, which rarely ends well. On the contrary, try to feel what they're feeling. Often, hidden behind a person's outer hostility are inner fear, insecurity, and vulnerability. By first making an attempt to understand them, you may be able to melt the ice and build rapport. 

"Bob, I hear your conviction on this issue. Please say more about..."

"Sue, you bring up a critically important concern, and I understand your point."


3. Acknowledge that you hear the person's viewpoint. Recognize that the person has a right to share his or her opinion, whether you agree with it or not. Rather than interrupting, ignoring, or dismissing the person, listen patiently and validate that you've heard them.

"Thank you, Frank. I hear your point."

"Donna, your point is clear and we've heard your perspective."  


4. Find agreement and establish common ground. Despite the difficulty, find something that allows you to see eye-to-eye with this person. If there's anything relevant to the discussion you agree on, highlight it to help diffuse hostility.

"Ted, we both agree that expenses are too high..."

"Mary, you and I share a common goal to improve customer service..."


5. Put the question in neutral. Filter out their emotion and focus on the key issue. Be sure to avoid repeating their negative words or hostile tone. This enables you to restate the attack in the form of a logical valid question.

"Bill, the key issue here is timely delivery. What I believe I hear you asking is, 'Will this type of delay happen again?' The answer is no, it won't. We've taken every measure to avoid this issue in the future and ensure you receive the outstanding customer service you deserve."


6. Calmly ask to have hostile questions repeated. Rather than taking it upon yourself to reframe or restate the question, another option is to ask the person to repeat it. This technique subtly places a spotlight on them. As all heads turn to look at the questioner repeat the point, he or she often softens the tone and  becomes more moderate (and sometimes apologetic) the second time.

"Hal, I don't believe I fully understand your question. What exactly are you asking?"

"Barb, I'm not sure I fully understand the key issue. Could you please restate your point."


7. Maintain a courteous, confident look and tone. As Will Rogers once said, "When you fly off the handle, you usually make a bad landing." Never lose your temper in front of an audience because you also lose respect, credibility, and integrity. Choose your words carefully and control your voice tone and body language. Remember, the attack is most likely not about you. Project a relaxed appearance and convey a sincere concern for the issue and its resolution.


8. Ultimately, do not indulge another person's disrespectful behavior. After you make two or three respectful attempts to resolve and neutralize the issue, politely offer to continue the discussion after the meeting. Disengage and move on.

"Sue, in respect of everyone's time, let's table this issue and address it after the meeting."

"Dan, as I've said, I hear your point. In respect of our agreed-upon agenda, let's move on."


For additional Q&A techniques, please read my article "Twelve Tips for Handling Q&A with Confidence and Finesse:   http://conta.cc/WvRlZ9

If you would like to learn more about effective presentation skills, please read my book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in hard cover and Kindle).


Please contact me directly to schedule a training session for you and your team. I would be honored to support your presentation success! 

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