How to address the negativity behind the question

As leaders face difficult facts in a crisis, it’s important to revisit these essential tips on how to answer tough questions, from reporters and stakeholders alike.

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Critical comments and tough questions have a way of putting you instantly on the ropes.

Is it your tendency to quickly stammer out a less-than-satisfactory response, fueled solely by a defensive reaction?

One of the more effective things you can do when caught in such a predicament is to strip tough questions of their negative language, even as you answer the heart of the critique or concern. We call that neutralizing the negativity, so you can respond without rancor or defense. The heart of the approach is to listen carefully to the central concern and recast it in neutral language.

Behind this technique is an effort to depersonalize and diffuse a difficult situation.


We offer several examples of where this technique will help. (The words that are likely to get our defenses up are in bold.)

Question: Why does your product cost so much?

Response: Let’s talk about how we determine our product’s price.


Question: Why did you fail to meet your numbers last quarter?

Response: Let’s talk about the challenge we faced last quarter and why we expect stronger results next quarter.


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