Thursday, September 10, 2015

How to Deal With Skeptics

Matt Forrest Abrahams and Burt Alper have posted a Stanford Business piece titled "How to Handle Audience Skepticism."   They argue that reframing can be a powerful technique for addressing criticisms, objections, and tough questions.  Here's an excerpt focused on how paraphrasing can help when responding to a skeptic:

Paraphrase to address emotional skepticism. Paraphrasing is a listening tool where you reflect back what others say in your own words. Effective paraphrasing affords you several benefits (e.g., ensures that you heard someone correctly, values the other person’s contribution, allows you time to think, etc.). As a framing technique, paraphrasing allows you to acknowledge the emotion of someone’s question/objection, then pivot your response to the world of logic.

In my work, I've written about how reframing and redescribing can be powerful tools for handling contentious situations.  They can be methods for helping keep conflict constructive.  Here are two excerpts from my book, Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer:

On reframing: 
 When individuals seem to be locked into their positions, leaders need to find a way to alter the way that people perceive the situation. Too often, when debates get heated, individuals begin viewing the situation as a contest to be won or a test of wills. They believe that they are playing a zero-sum game, when, in fact, win-win solutions still may be achievable. Individuals stop thinking about new sources of information that might be examined or the possibility of new alternatives that might prove superior to any of the options currently being debated. They begin to worry more about losing face if the decision does not go their way rather being concerned about the impact on the organization. In these circumstances, leaders need to shift the focus back to the problem that needs to be solved. 

On redescribing:
Sometimes conflict becomes dysfunctional because one set of individuals tries hard to convey an important idea, but they cannot present the supporting evidence in a persuasive manner. They become increasingly frustrated, because they do not understand why others do not find the data compelling. It seems so obvious to them! Soon they begin to attribute the others' inability to comprehend their argument to a personal deficiency on the part of those they have failed to persuade. They think, "How could an intelligent person not understand this point?" Cognitive psychologist Howard Gardner, a pioneer in the study of the multiple dimensions of human intelligence, has argued that people can avoid these frustrating situations through a strategy that he calls redescription. As Gardner writes, "Essentially the same semantic meaning or content, then, can be conveyed by different forms: words, numbers, dramatic renditions, bulleted lists, Cartesian coordinates, or a bar graph. Multiple versions of the same point constitute an extremely powerful way in which to change minds."

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