Keeping Your Cool When Questioned

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I recently had an inquiry from a prospective client who said:

I am good speaking in situations where I feel supported such those who report to me and associates who I know are on my side, but in situations where I may be questioned or attacked, I tend to lose my train of thought and become defensive.

Sure, it’s easier to speak to people you know love you or support you (family, friends, friendly colleagues) but how do you maintain your cool and your natural communication style when faced with people who may be neutral at best?

First answer: Stay in the present.

Second answer: Observe without judgment

The great thing about speaking to people you know like and respect you is that you feel free to be yourself. You are not hampered by judgments of yourself or judgments you imagine they hold towards you, so you are entirely in the present. You also tend not to judge them.  You focus on your story or whatever you are trying to relay. You are present with them — taking in their support and giving it back to them in your enthusiasm for what you are saying and your connecting with them as you speak.

But when you are being questioned or feel attacked, it’s easy to flip into anger towards them, defensiveness, and self-deprecation. You start to judge them and/or yourself…and there you go: you’re in your head in a negatively distracting way. The alternative is to stay in observation mode and out of judgment. 

Before you answer, take that second to ground yourself in the here and now. Observe what you see, hear and feel. Instead of reacting impulsively to a comment, name what you observe. Look at your questioner, listen to what he or she says, and have a tiny monologue in your head about what’s happening. Instead of saying to yourself, “he’s a real jerk”, you might say, “he is very opposed to my idea” or “he is becoming very emotional in response to what I’ve said.” Instead of telling yourself, “I must be a real idiot to have said such a stupid thing” just name the feeling. “I’m feeling down on myself for what he just said.” That’s all real, not a judgment of the other person nor of yourself.

Staying in observation mode can defuse the comment enough for you to not feel the intense feelings that can lead to confusion or defensiveness. You can then stay in the present: focusing on what you want them to know and believe, and on communicating with them in a neutral and respectful manner.

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