How to Adapt to ‘Surprises’ and Build Trust….

      1 Comment on How to Adapt to ‘Surprises’ and Build Trust….

‘That won’t work!’

Your meeting has been going well. Suddenly a colleague from another team, (it could also be your client), drops a mini-bombshell question or comment.

It sounds a bit like an accusation. It’s certainly seems designed to undermine you. If you let it…

Our job is to help the group find solutions, not dig into the perceived problem.  


S  l  o  w    d  o  w  n … and listen; you’ll gather useful information that they couldn’t, or chose not to tell you before.

You’re trying to help keep the rest of the group on side and not let the disruptive person take over. So, take them seriously, not literally.

Instead of trying to figure out how you can answer the challenge or changes that they demand (and somehow stay on track), ask questions to get more context for the request (especially if they show they don’t know what they are talking about). You’ll help them remain calm. Just don’t assume they actually know what they are looking for!!


When they push with what looks like an unreasonable demand, repeat exactly what they say … ‘What I hear you saying is X, Y and Z.’ That will give them time to reflect on whether it’s actually what they want, and give you time to think. Then say, ‘Tell me more…‘ You’ll get more context for their request.

Then, ‘When you’ve faced this issue in the past what worked to resolve it?’ Then, ‘What would success look like if we resolved your issue? How would you see yourself implementing your part of the project?’ By now, they will likely have reframed their direction in more practical terms … You can then look for things between the proposal they approved and what they now say they want. ‘You said you liked the proposal for reasons x, y and z. I now hear you want to focus mostly on z and modify it to become z2.‘

When they give you fuzzy direction ask, ‘What would success look like if we did that?’ Then say, ‘I heard three things A, B and C. Which of these is most important to you?’ You’ll help them clarify their needs.

As you proceed, ask simple check-in questions like, ‘How do you see this being useful to you so far?’

Avoid, ‘Do you have any questions?’ as this encourages some to find an unhelpful one.

Always answer questions that do come up.

If the question will be answered later in the meeting, say so and suggest that they wait.

If the question isn’t clear, ask them to clarify with, ‘Tell me a bit more about your question.’ While they answer, listen, understand and use the time to develop your response. Ask, ‘When you did (requested idea) before, what worked?’ and ‘What would you do differently next time?’

When they ask a not-so-good question, calm down and think of it as an opportunity to:

  • Check in to see where they are
  • Hear some new information
  • Gauge their level of understanding
  • Be helpful by better understanding what they are saying

You may, or may not have won them over, but you will have made progress, stayed on track and continued to build trust with the main audience.

More Monkey-free Meeting tips

1 thought on “How to Adapt to ‘Surprises’ and Build Trust….

  1. michael cardus

    This is useful. Slowing down and asking to understand better – if the person truly has and wants to do things for the better, the ideas can be assimilated. If they are choosing to be negative for some other reason, the ideas can be listened too and if useful be assimilated.

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