We started this site as an extension of our book, Comebacks at Work, to post suggestions for responding to tough situations whether at work or not.
If you leave us some details about an experience you’ve had, we’ll give you some comeback suggestions. The book is written so that for any given situation you can consider a range of comebacks in terms of intensity.
Comebacks need to suit your comfort level. That doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally surprise the socks off of everyone. It certainly doesn’t pay to be totally predictable.
There are no right answers regarding comebacks but there are a lot of possibilities. We hope you’ll jump in and share your experiences. But stop by in any case to read the latest. And welcome!
Kathleen and Chris
Kathleen Reardon is a Phi Beta Kappa professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, author of nine books, and Distinguished Fellow of First Star, which endeavors to improve the lives of children at risk and develop foster academies on university and college campuses. Her book THE SECRET HANDSHAKE about politics at work was a bestseller, and among her Harvard Business Review articles, ”The Memo Every Woman Keeps In Her Desk” was a HBR reprint bestseller. She is also an artist and still immensely enjoys studying how people communicate. She can be reached for interviews by contacting HarperCollins.
Christopher Noblet, MA/MBA, is an editor and writer. His background is also in communication. He has worked as a journalist, in public relations and public affairs, and as an executive speechwriter. He and Kathleen are writing a screenplay based on a novel of hers. He also writes for The Audiophile Voice, dabbles in photography and plays guitar.
No doubt you’ve been put on the spot or cornered in conversation. We all have. Maybe it happened in a discussion you had last week or even yesterday. Perhaps, embarrassed in public, your response just wasn’t good enough. You felt somehow inadequate, and angry. You wasted hours— maybe even days—dwelling on the event and rolling it over and over in your mind. You castigated yourself with each and every replay and perhaps ended up hating the person or people whom you held responsible for your disgrace. Then, suddenly in the midst of your unrelenting misery, it came to you. “I should have said….” But it’s too late now. All you can do is wonder: “Why didn’t I think of that then?”
The answer is simple. If you find yourself in this kind of situation often, you didn’t think of saying it because you haven’t yet mastered the art of the comeback. You’re not alone, and the good news is that this condition is temporary.
No one is born a comeback expert. It takes trial and error, adherence to a set of principles about communication, and practice of an array of options. What it doesn’t do is require you to be someone other than yourself—just a more astute version. And you don’t have to turn into a communication pro overnight. The most expert among us, even those people who seem to know what to say under any and all circumstances, have their “If only I’d said” moments.
So where do you start? First you look at your own patterns. As I wrote about in THE SECRET HANDSHAKE, each of us is at least 75% responsible for how people treat us. If someone at work says to you, “That idea is stupid,” you’re at a choice point. You can lash back at the person or you can decide that advancing the idea is more important or that despite what he said, you’d like to maintain this relationship. One possible response: “I thought so too at first. But a lot of innovative ideas seem that way” and then go on to explain your idea as if this person didn’t insult you at all.
Communication happens so fast that people say things they regret almost instantly. If you don’t give them the chance to reflect on their error and instead attack, then a mistake on their part may lead to a permanent ending to what might otherwise be a good relationship.
Then there are those times when the offense wasn’t accidental. You were clearly insulted. These situations usually call for more direct, “I’m wondering if what I heard was what you meant to say?” or “If I reply in kind, we’ll both be out of line.” With a boss who is insulting, in order to make him or her think twice, you might want to say, “You’re my boss, but that doesn’t mean anything goes.” If that’s too strong, there are many milder ways to make a person think twice before continuing in a dysfunctional pattern with you. Try comebacks that buy time like, “That’s an interesting twist,” “Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” “You may want to say that again – you know, differently.”
So many of us suffer from what we call brain freeze in Comebacks at Work. We just stall in place and then drive home pulling our hair out thinking about what we should have said. In the book, we provide the R-list, which includes ways to revise what others say, such as reframe, revisit, restate, rebuke, and retaliate. We provide ways to think about comebacks – such as taking what the person said and actually using it in a positive way.
If someone says, “You’re stubborn.” You could get angry or defend yourself. Or you could simply say, “You’re right. I am persistent.” Stubborn and persistent describe similar ways of being, but persistent is respected more. It’s a tweaking of words. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
There are many more comebacks to learn, as well as the when, why and where of this skill in COMEBACKS AT WORK .
Dr. Kathleen Reardon also blogs at Huffingtonpost.com and is on Twitter at comebackskid.