This interview was a really good one because Bill had clearly read Comebacks at Work. He asked great questions, so I thought I’d share the interview with you along with some additional ideas.
(1) Job competition during periods of high unemployment increases the likelihood of confrontation, so it’s important to learn how to respond effectively on your feet. Comeback skill isn’t a luxury or just a bunch of quips, it’s a way of raising the chances of getting and keeping a job. Also, it lowers the stress you experience at work, on the drive home and at home. When you’re confident that you can respond effectively, as Bill says, “under fire,” a comfort level develops.
(2) Bill mentioned fear and lack of experience as contributing to brain freeze — an inability to respond. Both are involved. None of us wants to say something that just hangs in the air and makes us look bad. But even worse is letting people walk all over you for most, or even part, of each day. Sometimes your credibility is on the line, and if you abdicate your 75% responsibility for how conversations go each day, then people may take advantage of that. If you work in a highly or even pathologically political workplace, street fighters and maneuverers are bound to take advantage of you unless you’re prepared to deal with them.
(3) Not being predictable is very important at work. None of us wants to be managed without our even knowing it, but that happens to many people who become predictable by slipping into patterns. Having a repertoire of comebacks enables you to alter the direction of conversations to your advantage. It prevents people from thinking, “Here he goes again. I know just what to say to throw him off.”
(4) Separating offense from insult is another crucial skill. Treating accidental offense in the same way as intended insult leads to problems. It inhibits the selection of effective comebacks. When people accidentally offend with an ill-chosen word, why slam them with a direct, intense comeback? Instead, you could ask a question like “Did you mean to say that?” or you might say “Something went wrong here that we can fix.” This buys time in conversation and it gives both persons a chance to consider another way of moving forward.
(5) Bill used the word “navigating.” That’s what we do when interacting with each other. You wouldn’t go sailing alone on the high seas without becoming skilled at navigation. So why would you go into communication each day unprepared to respond on your feet or to manage conversations in ways that facilitate your job and career?
(6) The R-list consists of ten types of comebacks that begin with the letter “R”. Revisit, restate, reframe, rebuke and reorganize are a few of them. Reorganize is the one we discussed during the interview, and it’s a very useful comeback. People often mention more than one idea when they are talking. If you’re not ready to handle one of those ideas or if that idea is likely to lead to unnecessary conflict, make the other idea the most important theme of the discussion. “I think X is where we should focus right now” is one possible lead-in. “Let’s discuss X for now because it’s important to what we will do about Y” is another possibility.
(7) Bill and I talked about sending memos and texts. Technology makes communication so immediate. To be at least 75% responsible for how we’re treated at work and elsewhere, we need to be sure to think before pushing “send.” Whenever there’s a chance that what you’re writing might be misinterpreted — which is often — it pays to step back, put yourself in the other person’s position (not as you but as that person) and consider revising.
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Kathleen is also on Twitter: @comebackskid