Magazine article Talent Development

How to Spar like a Champion: There Is No Doubt That the Wrong Phrase during a Key Conversation Can Harm Your Relationships as Well as Your Reputation. Learn to Manage Your Responses during Those Tough Conversations and Come out on Top

Magazine article Talent Development

How to Spar like a Champion: There Is No Doubt That the Wrong Phrase during a Key Conversation Can Harm Your Relationships as Well as Your Reputation. Learn to Manage Your Responses during Those Tough Conversations and Come out on Top

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

We've all heard Muhammad Ali's line, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," which he used to describe the necessary combination of moves for winning his boxing championships. What I've discovered is that the ability to "float like a butterfly" is, indeed, mandatory for professional communications and conversations--"stinging like a bee," however, tends to end poorly for all concerned.

Following then, are a few phrases that I hope will help you float through "What if?" scenarios, necessary apologies, and those moments when the opportunity to sting is present (and so tempting) but ill-advised.

Handling the hypotheticals

In today's uncertain economic atmosphere, people are prone to second guess ideas, initiatives, and opportunities. This can be particularly frustrating when you've poured your heart and soul into your presentation, and all you hear at the end is, "but what if X happens?" or "but what if Y happens?"

Hopefully, you will have thought through the answers to the majority of these hypothetical scenarios prior to your presentation, and can therefore greet each one with poise. Occasionally, however, you may be presented with a "What if?" that's so preposterous, you have no rejoinder. In these moments, it can be helpful to have the following phrase in your arsenal: "I think the better hypothetical question is X," with X being a question you want to answer.

The beauty of this particular response is that it acknowledges that there might be the germ of a good idea in the question, but it moves the conversation in the direction you want it to go.

An alternate to the "What if?" scenario is one in which the questions being fired at you are more hostile--in which those asking are on the attack and you have been asked to hold the fort while your team gathers its resources. In these moments, I've found the following sentence useful: "I'm not willing to speculate on hypotheticals."

The reason this response works so well is that it flags the question as based on nothing more than an idea or opinion, and leaves you resting comfortably on the high road. You aren't going to exacerbate the crazy by commenting on a wild card "What if?" question. Should the person persist, I think you can (gently) point out that, "Feelings aren't facts. I'm not willing to comment until I have all the facts."

Apologizing with grace

We've all heard the phrase, "'No' is a complete sentence." At this time, I'd like to point out that, "I'm sorry," is also a complete sentence. What I often hear, however, is, "I'm sorry, but...," followed by an excuse, rationalization, or justification for what occurred. Here's my suggestion: Say, "I'm sorry." Then stop talking.

Is this easy? No. Will it move the conversation away from finger pointing and toward problem solving with greater speed? Yes.

Should you feel the need to add to, "I'm sorry," I'd like to point out the difference between, "I'm sorry your feelings got hurt," and "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." The first is, to me, the verbal equivalent of, "I'm sorry you got caught in the rain without an umbrella." There is nothing there that bespeaks genuine remorse for an action committed by you. "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings," however, demonstrates your willingness to be accountable for what occurred--either intentionally or unintentionally. …

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