Keep The Goal In Mind: How To Stay Calm In The Face of Client Frustration, Professional Disagreement, And Unsolicited Criticism
Getting pulled into an argument you didn’t intend to enter? Losing your cool in the face of criticism? Creating distance with someone you’re just trying to help? We all find ourselves in these tricky situations. This simple strategy will help you get you out of them.
The Aggressive Audience Member
A few years ago, I was giving a keynote lecture to about 500 health and fitness professionals. The session went really well until the Q&A, where one audience member stood up and aggressively contradicted a recommendation I gave.
As I’ve learned to do, I gave him space to share his viewpoint, told him I’d be happy to have a discussion with him after the session, and asked if there were any other questions.
Unsatisfied, he got even louder and more aggressive. I told him I could sense his frustration and I could see where he was coming from. I promised to fully hear him out in a few minutes, at the end, and give him as much time as he needed.
After the session was over, we had a surprisingly calm and peaceful discussion (led by some of the crucial conversation strategies described here).
Later, a colleague asked me how I do it, how I remain calm and confident, never raising my voice, always assuring and assuaging… how I address unprofessionalism professionally.
My Answer: Always Keep The Goal In Mind
This can feel hard to do.
Imagine you’re the main event and you’re getting attacked, loudly, publicly. Why not use the pulpit to fight back, chest-thump, and exert dominance?
Because that’s not the goal. It can never be the goal.
Think of it this way: Is my goal to win a fight with a single audience member so clearly trying to draw the attention away from me and towards himself?
Of course not!
The goal is to demonstrate to the other 499 audience members that I’m a calm, rational professional. That I’m confident, know my stuff, and am compassionate, approachable, and helpful. That I’m someone they want to learn from and do business with.
What else would my goal be at events like this?
Arguing, trying to win arguments, or trying to demean others makes these exchanges about my ego. And I’m not there to stroke my own ego. I’m there in a professional capacity to be an ambassador for myself, my business, and (in some ways) the entire field.
Further, there are others watching, observing, evaluating, judging.
People are always watching, whether it’s an audience, your family, colleagues, coworkers, friends, or social media contacts. That’s why, regardless of who “wins” any public conflict, both parties lose.
One of my mantras comes from The Takeover by Jay-Z.
A wise man told me don’t argue with fools ‘Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who.
The wise man he was referring to is likely Mark Twain, who said:
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.
Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
So I don’t argue. Instead, I thank people for their thoughts and comments. The more disrespectful, combative, or triggering they’re trying to be, the more intentional I am about taking a deep breath, reminding myself of the goal, and responding with that in mind.
Your Turn: What’s Your Goal?
Asking “What’s my real goal here? What am I trying to accomplish?” will help you avoid distraction and stay focused on what matters.
To get started, consider your goal in each of the following scenarios.
When giving a seminar?
When interacting on social media?
When writing an article?
When speaking with a client or patient?
When in a staff meeting?
When responding to criticism?
This idea of keeping the goal in mind extends to every situation in your career and life too. From crucial conversations to stage presentations. From social media posts to parenting children. From creating your refund policy to handling unprofessional behavior.
Practice this and you’ll be recognized as the consummate professional, as someone who’s unflappable, as someone who keeps the main goal the main goal. Practice this and your reputation will grow.
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