Copyright to Andrew Sobel © 2012
Published here September 2012

Editor's Note | Introduction | Dealing with your Customers or Stakeholders 
Personal Predicaments | The End of the Road

Personal Predicaments

5.  You're introduced to someone you don't know at a work or social event and an awkward silence follows.

"Hi, I'm Andrew Sobel." Then what? If the other person is a gregarious extrovert, you may not have to do or say anything - they'll carry the ball. But chances are, there will be an awkward silence. Or at best, a bland "How are you?"

When you first meet someone at an event, start with some easy, non-threatening questions. For example: "Where have you come in from?"; "So what's your connection to our host?"; or "How are you enjoying Atlanta?" and so on. But then you should quickly dig a bit deeper: "Where did you grow up?"; "How did you get started in your field?"; and "So when you're not shaking things up at the office, how do you like to spend your time?"

Don't waste 20 minutes engaging in purely superficial chitchat. On the other hand, don't dive in with inappropriate questions like "If you had only a month to live, what would you do?" Remember: Rapport starts with identifying commonalities and similarities, not shocking the other person!

6.  Someone attacks your beliefs or values.

Nothing chokes us up emotionally and angers us like an attack on our beliefs, values, or practices - especially with regard to religion, politics, and childrearing! Say you're having a discussion about healthcare and the other person says, stridently, "Oh come on, you're not going to tell me you think the government can do a better job running healthcare than efficient private companies! Please!" How do you respond? Your first reaction is to vigorously defend your position. This will most likely lead to an angry escalation.

Instead, try first asking a few questions. For example: "I'm curious, what things do you think the government should get involved with?" or, "That's a fair point. What kind of grade would you give the private healthcare companies for their performance?" or, "What do you think should be done to help people who are uninsured or cannot afford private insurance?" You could also ask, "What's the worst service you've ever received? Was it from a for-profit company - a restaurant or an airline? - or from the government?" When you're attacked, come back with questions that help you learn more about the other person and understand their anger - and that also help put your ideas into the mix in a non-confrontational manner.

7.  A conversation turns to anger or goes off the rails.

You're just a few minutes into a presentation at work, and it all goes wrong. You are being angrily confronted, or your information is being irrationally challenged. Tempers flare. What do you do? If you're like most people, you keep on talking - faster and faster - trying harder and harder to persuade your audience.

A better option is to hit the reset button. Ask, "Do you mind if we start over?" Then, shift the focus to the other people in the room by saying, "We probably should have talked before I put this presentation together. Before I go on, can I ask - what's your perspective on the impact of these new regulations?" or, "You've alluded to some data I have not seen. Can you tell me more about that and where it came from?" Those magic words - "Can we start over?" - can salvage a tense situation at work and also at home. But you must use them early in the conversation.

Dealing with your Customers or Stakeholders  Dealing with your Customers or Stakeholders

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