It’s easy to be thrown off-balance during a hard conversation. Sometimes you’ll prepare for the conversation and think you’ve got it under control and then find yourself blindsided. An unexpected question or objection completely throws you off-balance. Suddenly what seemed simple becomes complicated, and you feel completely out of control.
To prepare well for a hard conversation, you need to anticipate potential objections and tough questions. Most people don’t bother to do this which is unfortunate. If you fail to think about likely objections and questions, you increase the chances of being caught off-guard.
You might think you can never anticipate everything someone will say. And that’s true. But it’s amazing how much you can predict when you take the time to do some preparation. By doing a little prep, you create the luxury of being able to plan how to respond before the conversation takes place. This builds confidence because you’re far less likely to be ambushed.
Anticipating and dealing with objections will help you be better prepared and feel more confident when you need to have tricky conversations.
Anticipating and dealing with likely objections involves four steps.
- Self-Reflecting – think about your own data – what have you seen or heard that’s relevant?
- Perspective Taking – trying to understand the other person’s view of the world
- Formulating possible objections / questions
- Formulating possible responses to deal with the anticipated objections /questions
Self-Reflecting – often you’ll have had previous conversations with the other person, and they will have shared their opinions with you. Or you will have had conversations with third parties who have told you what the other persons has said. This provides you with some clues around what might come at you in the conversation.
Perspective Taking – To anticipate objections and challenging questions you can try and see the situation from the other persons perspective. We also use this approach when trying to identify Common Ground (see Finding Common Ground). Essentially, you ask five questions to gain insight into how the other person sees the world:
- What’s their sensory data? What are they seeing and hearing?
- What are they thinking? (What are the stories they’re telling themselves?)
- What emotions are coming into play for them?
- What do they want?
- What have they done in the past that’s relevant to this situation?
Formulating objections – using the information you’ve already seen or heard, and the data you create doing the perspective taking exercise, formulate the objections and questions that might come at you during the conversation.
Formulating your response – Finally, think how you might respond to the objections that you anticipate might come at you.
Let’s see how you might do this using an example:
You decide to have a hard conversation with a colleague who we’ll call Joe. There’s a problem with the behaviour of a member of his team (X) who is interacting with your team. Your team rely on X to get information about a project they’re collaborating on. There have been a few conversations about the issues, and the promises that have been made to you by Joe haven’t been actioned.
Step 1 – What’s your data? What have you seen or heard?
- Your team members complaining about X (the member of the other team)
- Joe listening to your complaints and agreeing to speak to X to sort it out
- More complaints from your team about specific failures to deliver info on time
- Joe saying that after speaking to X, they feel the problem is with your team.
Step 2 – What’s Joe’s perspective? (This is a process that may involve assumptions and guesswork). When you can’t do this easily you probably need to get more information! See the lesson on Asking Open Questions.
Here are some examples of what might be going on for Joe:
- Sensory data – Hearing complaints from you, hearing comments from their team about you and your team being rude, disrespectful and not allowing reasonable time for requests.
- Thoughts – Jane’s team need to be more reasonable; this is not just about X; this project is not a priority for us
- Emotions – confused, frustrated, stressed
- Wants – deliver business outcomes, be seen as collaborative, protect his team
- Actions – Committed to resolve the issue, spoken to X and explained there were other issues
Step 3 – Formulating possible objections / questions
Based on your own data and your effort to think about Joe’s perspective, you might anticipate the following objections from Joe:
- “Your team are being unreasonable”
- “It’s not fair to be blaming X, your team are behaving poorly”
- “Your team have not made their requests clear”
- “This project is not a priority – there are other more important projects that we need to be focusing on”.
Step 4 – Formulating possible responses
The key is to be curious – listen to what they have to say and seek to explore it further via an open question (questions which start with how, when, what).
Here are some examples of possible objections and suggested responses:
- Objection: “Your team are being unreasonable” – Response: “Oh, that surprises me, what exactly are they doing that causes you to say they’re being unreasonable?
- Objection: “It’s not fair to be blaming X, your team are behaving poorly” – Response: “This isn’t about blame; I’m just wanting to achieve our objectives. It disappointing to hear that the team are behaving poorly – what are my team doing that you feel is poor behaviour?”
- Objection: “Your team have not made their requests clear” – Response: “If that’s true, I’m disappointed. It’s important that they make their requests clear. When haven’t they been clear? It would be great if you could give me some specific examples so I can address this with them”.
Put this into practice
- Think about a past dispute and how you responded. Write down some alternative responses using open questions.
- Think about a current scenario. Use the approach laid out in this lesson to anticipate and respond to possible objections.