Respond to Confrontation Like a Boss
Guest Post by Melissa Hereford

Replace “be convincing” with “be curious”

Have you ever shared something in a meeting and been challenged?

How you respond will influence your credibility. If you huff, “Fine” or stomp out of the room, if you cross your arms, put on your angry face and get quiet, if you get upset and snap passive aggressive comebacks, then you are only hurting yourself.

What many people don’t realize is that when you get challenged in a meeting, it often has nothing to do with YOU.

People usually don’t challenge you in order to discredit you. They usually aren’t thinking about you at all.  They’re thinking about themselves and how to get their own way or make themselves look better. And they may challenge you in order to look smarter.

Here’s a great example: a woman in my class Negotiate With Confidence, let’s call her Darlene, was presenting the results from a survey she conducted with their clients.

The results were dismal, painting a picture of a company with unhappy clients. As she started presenting the data, someone jumped in to question the survey tool she used. And suddenly everyone wanted to talk about the survey tool.

She lost control of the meeting and they spent her allotted time talking about the tool, not the results.

The colleague who hijacked her meeting wasn’t thinking about HER. He was thinking about himself, about how to inflate his importance by taking the spotlight.

At the end of the meeting, when she’d run out of time and yet presented NOTHING to the team, she was angry: at him and at herself for allowing it to happen.

Another time, one of my coaching clients used a compelling statistic in her presentation. Suddenly, before she knew what had happened, she’d been challenged on the validity of the statistic, which they spent all of the remaining time debating.

She ran out of time and did not get to present the material she’d prepared. She was upset with him but even more annoyed with herself for allowing it to happen.

People hijack meetings to draw attention to themselves. They’re often not aware that they’re ruining it for someone else. Or they just don’t care.

You have lots of ways to respond in these situations but let’s focus on one: be curious.

In the moment, when you want to stomp your foot and huff, “Fine,” to avoid an argument, you can talk louder and try to be more convincing…or you can be curious.

Replace “be convincing” with “be curious”

What does it sound like to replace our natural desire to defend ourselves with genuine curiosity?

I look at reporters for the best ways to respond.

Have you heard an interview where the reporter gets attacked in some way, or the person being interviewed responds with an intentionally snarky remark? The best reporters never takes the bait.

They always respond by asking another question.

In the meeting where Darlene was challenged on the survey tool, this change from defensive to curious begins with her desire to understand why the survey tool is important.

INSTEAD OF: “Let me convince you why this was the right tool to use.”

TRY THIS: “Let me find out why you’re asking about the tool. Why is the survey tool important?”

THEN DEFER: “I see. That is a great topic for another meeting. Our time today is to go through the survey results. Can we agree to focus on the results and put the survey tool discussion on the agenda for our next meeting? Does everyone agree with that course of action?”

She’s retaken control without dismissing his concern about the tool.

In the meeting where my colleague used a statistic that was challenged, this change from defensive to curious begins with her wanting to understand why the statistic is important.

INSTEAD OF: “Let me convince you why this is an important statistic.”

TRY THIS: “Let me find out why you’re asking about statistic. What concerns do you have about it?”

THEN DEFER: “This statistic is only a small part of the information I have to share with you today. If I promise to send you the source, can we agree to put it aside for now and focus on the topic? After reading the source document about the statistic, we’ll all be on the same page so that we can discuss it. I’d be happy to set up a meeting on that topic.”

She’s retaken control without dismissing his concern about the statistic.

The bottom line

You may find that replacing your instinct to “be convincing” with “be curious” will relieve a lot of stress.

When you stop thinking about things as a personal attack on you, when you realize that most people aren’t thinking about you at all, it’s like you’ve placed a nice, neat barrier between your emotional self and a more confident response.

Getting curious not only gives you more information about the situation, it puts you back in control of both your emotions and the conversation.

Melissa Hereford


Melissa Hereford will teach you how to get more of what you want while building stronger relationships at


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