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Six Steps to Converting Angry Audiences

They say that most people’s greatest fear is speaking in public.  If this is true, the fact that bear attacks, smallpox, or starvation don’t even make the list shows just how little we have to complain about; still, having taken my share of verbal incoming from fired-up employees in company meetings, I understand the anxiety.  Fortunately, there are specific steps you can use apply in your response - not to return fire, but to put an end to the hostilities.

  1. Start your response by pointing out areas where you agree.  Something like “I agree with you that our recent rate increases can be difficult for people,” or “You’ll get no argument from me that our service needs improvement.”

  2. From there, expand on your statement in ways your antagonist may not even have thought of.  “In fact, our customer feedback shows a lot more intense dissatisfaction than in the last two years than ever before.”

These steps serve you in two crucial ways: first, you demonstrate to the person that you understand their concern.  Second – and perhaps even more important – you get the person nodding in agreement with you.

   3. Next, lay out a solution, preferably one the person hadn’t considered.   “That’s why we’re                     pursuing grant funding to replace that infrastructure.”

   4. Show how that addresses the person’s concern.  “It seems to me your concern is for how we’re          going to control these costs over the long term, is that right?”

   5.  Keep demonstrating your good intentions.  “I’m asking this because I want to be sure I                        understand you.”

   6.If you need to, respectfully show the argument’s weakness.  “The problem I have with the                    argument is that we have some quick and easy solution to this that will serve our customer into            the future.”

The critical goal in this phase is to separate the person from our criticism.  That’s why we talk about “the” argument rather than “your” argument.  This is crucial because it goes right to that fear people have of public speaking: most people’s anxiety comes from a fear of getting up in front of people and being proven wrong.

Show the person you understand their problem, get them saying “yes” while you bridge from that into an alternative solution, and show them why it addresses their issue.  If necessary, expose the flaws in the argument, but isolate the argument from the person.  These are the steps that kind not just shut down a detractor, but can actually convert them into a supporter.  And they let everyone present see that you know your stuff, and you care about their concerns.  

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