by Steve Adubato, PhD
Recently, I was asked to give a motivational speech to 500 employees of a corporation that was about to merge with another corporation. Many of these employees would soon be laid off. Others were hanging on to their jobs by a thread, but all were fearful of the change that was about to take place. It was very clear early on that there were pockets of resistance to the idea of an outsider coming in telling those in the company that they needed to have a "positive attitude."
We have all faced audiences that resist or object to what we have to say. How we deal with this opposition will have a tremendous impact on our ability to lead and communicate effectively. With that in mind, consider the following tips to help you deal with an audience that is less than receptive:
Understand the resistance as a normal reaction to an idea that is new or unfamiliar to your audience. Change is scary. So instead of trying to ram your idea down people's throats, communicate a sense of empathy and appreciation for your audience's concern. Let them know that you "respect their points of view" and then offer a different way of looking at the situation while not discounting them or their opinions.
Hear the audience member's entire objection or comments about what you've had to say. Don't interrupt the person who is objecting. Very often, the audience member who is resistant wants to be acknowledged and heard and doesn't have anything particular against you or your message. Simply put, don't take it personally.
Look for an audience member who you believe to be supportive of the message you are communicating. Engage that person in a dialogue and get him or her to express his or her support publicly. What this will do is break down any potential barrier between you and the audience and that "us" and "them" mentality. When resistant audience members can see that their peers are supportive of you, they will tend to be more open-minded as well.
If an audience member raises an objection and mischaracterizes your position in the process, don't argue or debate. Rather, respectively say something like, "Jim, I can appreciate your point of view and how you have interpreted my message. However, I need to make myself more clear. What I'm really saying is…" The key is not to criticize the other person, but to rather own the possibility that you have not communicated your message effectively enough and see this audience resistance as an opportunity to clarify things and move forward.
If an audience member raises an issue or a challenge to your presentation that you see as valid or legitimate, say so; "Bob, that's an excellent point that I hadn't thought of. I need to incorporate that into the plan. It will make it a lot better. Thanks." What you want to communicate to your audience is that you are open minded and receptive to other ways of looking at the situation. That will make you more likeable and therefore more persuasive.
Try to get audience members to be more specific with their concerns. If an audience member makes a general objection, offer this; "Nancy, I really would like to know why you feel that way. Could you expand on that point?" Often, audience members aren't even sure why they object. By forcing them to be more specific, you may help them see that they really don't disagree with you at all.
Remember, a resistant audience represents nothing more than an opportunity for a great communicator to step up and show his or her stuff. It's all how choose to see it.