One Magic Question to Deflect Pushback

Have you ever proposed an idea, or made a case for something, only to have the other person respond with hesitation or a “No”, and no clear explanation for why?

If you’re like most, your mind immediately gets VERY creative in making up reasons for why this person did not immediately go for it. It sounds something like this: “They probably thought my idea was dumb/useless” or “They don’t think I’m smart/trustworthy”.

That, my friend, is the problem. We don’t find out what the hesitation was truly about, and instead we make up our own (often wrong) interpretations. This is where resentment and distancing come in.

But it doesn’t have to be like that! We CAN take the reins of the situation, and walk away informed & empowered to move the conversation forward. To show you how to do it, I’ll share Jens' story:

Jens, a brilliant engineer leading a senior team at a startup, hired me at the beginning of the year to get support in positioning himself for an executive role. He was more than qualified, and I knew all he needed help with was presenting himself as the obvious candidate, nourishing key relationships, and building the confidence to go for what he was clearly suited for.

He got the promotion to VP within 4 months of us working together. Then, he had the first meeting with his new boss, who told him, “Jens, we won't have you leading on your own right away. The old VP will be co-leading the new team with you for the first few months. You know, just in case...”

Jens was floored. He left the meeting feeling confused and angry. What the hell was THIS supposed to mean? And his mind got busy making up explanations. This time it was, “I’m not qualified, they saw it, and they’re not sure I’ve got what it takes for this big role.” Enter impostor syndrome for Jens.

During our coaching session that week, Jens shared what had happened, and the “story” he’d made up in his head about what happened. I said:

“People sometimes throw out statements like the one your boss said and it’s not always for the reasons we think. Have you considered there may be other interpretations than the one you made up?”

We concluded there could be many more reasons. I suggested that before he starts imagining other wrong interpretations, he should ask his boss this simple question as a follow-up: “Based on what you said last week, I’m wondering what your concerns are when it comes to my ability to perform optimally in this role.”

After probing deeper in this way with his boss, Jens came to our next session feeling emboldened. His ONE question had gotten the following answer:

“Well, actually, I’ve got zero concerns about you Jens. I simply wanted you to get extra support, and to have us covering all bases. I think I said it in a way that sounded like I'm worried about something concrete, but I don’t. I’ve got full faith in you and your abilities; otherwise I wouldn't have put you in this role.”

So, dear reader, there you have it. This is the magic question that we can use anytime we find ourselves facing hesitation or push-back from someone, to help usidentify what exactly is getting in the way, if anything:

What are your concerns about X?

This question also helps us uncover if there is, in fact, nothing behind the push-back, so that we can stop worrying, and move on to more productive things to do with our mind.

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