When arguments arise, it’s tempting to make statements to assert your claims or defend yourself. But shrewd questions work better to calm the situation.
Use these inquiries to extricate yourself from confrontational conversations:
• If a colleague criticizes you, ask, “Can you give an example?” When critics shift from leveling general attacks to citing specific instances, you’re in a better position to evaluate the validity of their comments.
Follow up by asking, “Can you suggest any actions I can take to address your concern?” This shows you’re eager to hear more and learn from others. Your receptivity, in itself, can defuse a hostile adversary.
• If your beliefs come under attack, resist the urge to defend or disagree. Instead, shove aside indignant feelings and play the role of an inquisitive college professor.
Say a disgruntled employee tells you, “You and your core values! You’re such a hypocrite. I can’t believe you say that with a straight face.”
Control your anger and ask, “How do you think our core values need to change?” As you brace for stinging feedback, strive to understand the full nature of the employee’s grievance before you respond.
• If a customer adopts an apathetic tone, your instinctive reaction might be to talk more. But before you shift into verbal overdrive, probe to determine the customer’s mindset.
Ask, “What’s the best way for us to spend our time?” or “What’s the most pressing issue you face?” Steer the dialogue in a direction that will best serve the customer’s interest.
• If someone erupts in anger, take a breath and remind yourself not to match or exceed the other’s fury. Then pause and ask, “Do you mind if we start over?”
Highly emotional people might continue to express their anger. But keep asking succinct questions such as, “What can I do help?” or “Can we start from scratch?” Eventually, most individuals who blow off steam will exhaust themselves and agree to press the reset button.
Responding to difficult conversations with earnest questions often helps you maintain your composure. Better yet, it signals to others that you’re eager to listen rather than ratchet up the tension.
— Adapted from Power Questions, Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas, John Wiley & Sons.