The Hot Seat

One of the crappy parts of being a leader is sometimes having to tell people stuff they don’t want to hear.  Like when there’s a big change afoot.  You want to do the best by your people (and stop the rumour mill working harder than it already is), so you gather everyone together to make the big announcement.

You’re sweating a bit – you are somewhat comfortable with the presentation, but you’re worried someone’s going to ask a question you can’t answer.  There’s a lot of stuff that’s still pretty secret squirrel – and there’s a lot of things you’re still a bit clueless about yourself.

You walk into the room and you can feel the hostility in the air.  People know something’s afoot and there’s all sorts of rumours running around about what it is.  You know that how you answer people’s questions is going to set the tone for a change process that’s already going to be challenging.  You know you mustn’t get defensive or lose your cool.

You can generally control the content and the delivery of the presentation but once you ask for ‘any questions’ you are in fantasy land. Nobody wants to be in this situation, but you are and you’re going to need to stiffen your spine and get on with it.

Here are some of our tactics to help you do your best:

  • Spend time detailing the key messages you want to convey with a primary focus on any benefits for the audience that may result from the change and don’t try and fluff any harsh realities. Be gutsy.
  • Use personal disclosures about how the changes are impacting on you
  • Think of all the questions you really don’t want to get asked before you’re on the spot. Prepare replies to them in advance so when someone throws that curveball at you, you’re on the front foot.
  • Use this four-step process to deal with questions:
    • Acknowledge (“Thank you for your question, that’s a good point”)
    • Clarify (“So what you’re asking is…”)
    • Respond directly if you know the answer; or postpone with a bridge to one of your key messages (“While I don’t have specifics, what I can say is…”)
    • Confirm (“Does that help you/tell you want you need to know?”)
  • Rehearse the Q&A as well as the presentation. Have your support team fire the tough questions at you and then review your responses
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. Explain that you wanted to be as transparent as possible so you’re telling them what you know, but that there are still details to be decided.  Commit to keeping lines of communication open and updating them as soon as you have more information.  Honesty like this makes you more credible and builds trust.
  • If someone becomes angry or aggressive, acknowledge that you can see their frustration and suggest taking the discussion offline, so you can address their concerns one-on-one.
  • Don’t let one person hog the Q&A time. Move on to others when you feel that they are not going to be satisfied

If you’ve got a big announcement coming and want to make sure you get your messages across in the best way possible and survive the ‘hot seat’, contact TACTICIAN.

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