Monday, June 1, 2009

How to defuse a "Screw-Me" moment? (Hint - "Spin" is the wrong answer)

Blog post at Rands in Repose

Manage the room. Questions aren’t Screw-mes. You can clarify and stay on track. You know that Amanda is going to ask about hard data, right? Don’t let her take over the conversation. Say, “I’ve got your data in the appendix, but let me get through this first, ok?” Yeah, you just shut down a Senior VP. Nicely done. No way you can do that without serious confidence in your preparation. Yes, Tim?

Tim’s got the Screw-Me and you didn’t see it coming. Total left field. Completely valid strategic observation and you don’t have a clue how to answer. Shit.

You will recognize the Screw-Me by the complete silence that fills both the room and your head. That’s the realization everyone is having that you’re Screwed. First, let’s not make it worse…

Tim: “Rands, what about THIS?”

I’m a poker player and an experienced meeting surfer, so the room will not immediately know from the look on my face that This has Screwed me, but what I choose to do next will define my ongoing relationship with the room.

There are two options when you are cornered by This. Your animal brain, when cornered, will try to find a way out. You can taste this approach even before you begin. I am going to spin. I am going to talk quickly and confidently about This and I am going to hope that in my furious verbal scurrying they are going to believe I’ve got This handled.

That’s not what they’re seeing or hearing.

This is not your staff meeting where a little verbal soft shoe is going to entertain and delight. These are the execs and no matter how many meetings you’ve surfed, they see straight through spin, they know this dance, and the longer you sit there spinning, the longer you give your boss an opportunity to step in, try to make the diving save, and make you look like a blithering fool.

It takes a little practice to make the correct move when you feel the spin coming. You are going to do three things:
  1. Acknowledge the Screw-Me.
  2. Admit “I don’t know.”
  3. Concretely explain the steps you’re going to take to find out and give yourself a deadline.
You have completely defused Tim. See, Tim was pissed which is why he waited until precisely the wrong moment to throw down the Screw-Me. He wanted to see you spin and make a fool of yourself in front of your management team and what you did with the instant acknowledgement was crush emotion with structured sanity.

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