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Stay Cool When Someone Challenges You at Work

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Work is often full of difficult moments where people catch you off guard and make you feel defensive. How can you maintain your composure when you’re challenged or put on the spot by peers, managers, or clients? Start by acknowledging your immediate biological response. Blushing, stuttering, or even crying are all normal reactions to hostility and stress. Try to shift your focus onto what the other person is thinking by saying something like, “Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s different from how I was thinking about the topic. Can you tell me more about it?” While listening to their response, take some deep breaths, adjust your posture, and internally label the feeling you’re experiencing. Next, check your assumptions about the other person. There could be many reasons why they seem argumentative, critical, or impatient. They could be having a bad day, or maybe this is just their communication style. Listen to the substance of their points. Don’t default to defensiveness, and if you think they might actually be right, acknowledge it and back down from your position respectfully. If you think they’re wrong, respond and engage confidently as if it were a negotiation, without anger. If you feel you’ve taken the discussion as far as you can, draw it to a close. Reassure them that you’ll work through their points and follow up. Thank them for the discussion, and exit with your head held high.

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