How to Handle Challenging Conversations & Questions Staying Calm & Confident

Top executive presence coach

Steve Jobs, when criticised, insulted and rudely questioned by one person in front of a large audience, responded with honesty, assertiveness and value. Steve Jobs Insult Response – Highest Quality

Coming across as clear, vulnerable and credible, Jobs concurred that mistakes happened, and then firmly stated that those mistakes have helped them learn and improve product and performance.

From being personally humiliated and professionally bashed, he captured the audience winning their hearts with his confident composed manner. He came out on top.

We show up strong, prepared and confident to a well-intended conversation, when unexpectedly we are faced with resistance, some form of attack or a challenging question. We are then immediately thrown. Our pulse quickens, our breath shortens, and our face reddens. Experiencing a turmoil of emotions, we are on the verge of losing our balance, poise, merit, and authority.

These situations can go two ways. The conversation may take a turn towards self-defensiveness, argument and hyper-sensitivity, or it could become insightful, informative and advancing.

In the first case, we would show up as rattled, unsure and desperate, while in the second, we are seen as assured, clear-headed and solid.

The challenge here really is to catch ourselves at the instant, or there is risk of losing ground, of being thrown off our game, a tipping point from which there is no coming back.

Damage is done. Impressions are made. Reactions have happened. Conflict escalates into a vicious circle of nothing much of value but mere entertainment.

None of us want to get roped into an awkward battle, an exchange of words that are anything but constructive, and be discreetly mocked for ‘losing it’, while our message too losing its worth.

How then do we keep ourselves controlled, centered and calm when someone has upset or provoked us? How do we stay strong and intact so that we do not withdraw but meet the conversation with substance, power and focus?

Let the person finish

Let them have their say. We are in such a hurry to rush in, not wanting to be seen as weak or timid. Listen deeply to what they are saying so that your responses are impressively spot on. Moreover, this gives you time to digest and gather yourself.

Take a pause

We are human. Of course, we will be jolted, agitated or confused. And this will show up in our body language and our facial expressions. And that is okay. Let’s be honest. We are taken aback, even shocked.

We did not expect this, and neither are we prepared. Take a pause. Take a moment to digest what just happened and take a deep breath.

You may be extremely angry and feel urged to react, defend, or correct. All that can still be done, only more powerfully so in an unflustered self-controlled state.

Gain emotional control

We can’t think clearly when our emotions are in a flurry. This is the moment we want to be effective, impactful and potent. If our emotions are all over the place our thoughts will be in commotion.

Bring the state of mind to a place where we gather our thoughts, setting an impressive tone for our much-awaited response. Will your emotions help you act reliably?

Related read: The Power and Role of Emotional Intelligence in Developing Executive Presence

Breathe and lower pitch

Our voice communicates much of our response. Is it steady and firm, or shaky and stalling? A lower deeper pitch calms us and the listener, while a high pitch indicates nerves, making us anxious.

Speaking at a measured pace helps us recover and collect our thoughts. Asserting our tone with power and conviction helps us articulate our message.

Know you have supporters

Your audience wants you to succeed. Even when a bit of drama is always exciting for us social beings, people want you to win, to come out strong.

We love success after hardship. It puts our faith in the ‘good over evil and in the ‘success after failure’. Besides, people are there to hear you, to get some value.

What are you going to give them? A show to be ridiculed or an inspired act of value.

Work with integrity

Knowing we are doing right helps us speak strong, firm and confident. Go with honesty and heart. You will have the audience on your side.

Be open and true with your views, acts, and feelings. Masking, hiding, or manipulating creeps into our non-verbal, giving the questioner ammunition for further attack.

Being honest has the incredible quality of forever providing us with good argument, reason and passion. Last but not least, it gives us the ability to think on our feet,

Look for the bigger picture

As we calm ourselves, we are able to see beyond the immediate moment. Our focus is then on what is most useful here. Take that challenging question and use it for an appropriate response, one that takes us forward to what is worthwhile and purposeful. We don’t want to get caught in a directionless meaningless battle. Distance yourself from conflict to see solutions, larger goals, a thinking ahead as you build on your response. This additionally takes the attention away from the questioner to what may be more important now – a way forward. For this, we must be clear on our cause, our purpose and our vision.

Be objective and respectful

Be respectful in disagreement. Avoid any kind of personal retaliations Move away from the personal to looking at what matters.

Admitting to any wrongdoing on our part is in no way an act of weakness, but one of courage. Usually this softens any conflict, while it shows us in self-assured and credible light. Follow it with a powerful message focused on conviction, intention, and solution.

You may find it helpful: The Surprising Role of Nonverbal Communication in Executive Presence

Watch out for triggers

Be alert to when you might be starting to get agitated. Are you about to get worked up? An inner-watchfulness of how we are feeling in the moment keeps us aware, helping us keep our own personal distraction and hot buttons at bay. Focus on constructive objective responses.

Keep good eye contact

Looking away or down comes across as timidity, being unsure or masking, building distrust. Keep a steady gaze, moving your eyes to the rest of the audience as the message becomes relevant to all. Keeping shoulders back with an upright spine has an impact on our state of mind, giving us the confidence to speak with authority.

Move the focus away from yourself to the task at hand and the value you can give it. Add to this a powerful voice, a strong posture, objective views and constructive solutions with honesty, passion and purpose. You and your message will resonate with and be embraced by the audience.

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