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Don’t take offence, take control – how to respond to challenge without losing one’s head (or job)

“Chatham Ski and Snowboard Centre in Gillingham, Kent, has been forced to close because of the heavy snow”

 Yes, really!!!

Challenging conditions for them and for many around the UK at the moment.

And it’s the issue of challenge which is absorbing me this month, thanks to Claire Fox’s excellent book, ‘I Find that Offensive’, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29633906-i-find-that-offensive

In it she explores the societal trend towards silencing people; de-platforming speakers; trigger warnings and safe spaces; the so called ‘snowflake generation’ who struggle to cope with opposing views, and whose instinct is to shut those views down.

Thought-provoking stuff.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), I’ve recently worked with a number of people who fear challenge in a professional context, whether from clients or (senior) colleagues – the moments when their judgement/advice/opinion is questioned; control is lost, and they struggle to communicate effectively. The response tends to be either to cave in immediately or to aggressively defend their position, neither of which is desirable. So, how can we do better?

  1. Think TOPIC not detailed answer.  When the difficult question is asked, we often hone in on the detail and strive to provide a definite answer. This can be tricky if we don’t actually know the answer (eg, will Brexit be good news for the pharmaceutical sector?). Instead, try to lead with what you DO know about the topic more generally (eg an analysis of this week’s Brexit developments/debate/media coverage). Thus you will demonstrate expertise and knowledge, building trust with the client and increasing your own confidence. Then you will feel more able to address the actual question with eg “it’s just too soon to call”.
  2. RATIO. This is my acronym for a structured response to challenge, to enable you to wrest control back.
    • Respect the questioner’s entitlement to make the challenge. They have a right to hold a different opinion. Make this your default thought when the question is asked, along with “I wonder why?” This change in mindset will make everything which follows flow better (body language, tone, choice of words).
    • Ask for clarification, an example, more detail. Thus you are continuing to respect the other person but also buying time. Properly listening to the answer might even reveal that their issue is one which you do indeed know about.
    • Think, out loud. Process what they’ve told you and analyse its merits.
    • Inform them of your (opposing) position and provide evidence for it (research, experience, client feedback, data).
    • Offer to take the issue to the next stage by eg asking to see their evidence and promising to arrange a meeting to discuss it further. At this point, you have taken back control.

See if this technique works for you. It does for many. Sadly though, it won’t get the Chatham Ski and Snowboard Centre up and running again!