Do you scare people off when you speak?

How to inspire instead of being scary

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We’ve all heard someone start off with “well, the trouble is” or “what worries me is” haven’t we?   Or what about the classic “now, our first problem is” – talk about putting you on your back foot and priming you for ‘trouble ahead’!

And do you know the thing that happens when we hear those sorts of phrases?  Our brain immediately asks “uh, oh – what’s wrong?” or “oh dear, I need to brace myself for a problem” and so we’re automatically on the lookout, or listening out, for a problem. 

Ask yourself this:  "Is it useful for me and for what I want to say to have people listening out for a problem?"  No.  We both know it’s actually counter-productive.  When we start to scare people off or put them on the alert, we’re telling them that we’re thinking about something as a problem.  They may not.  They may actually decide it’s an opportunity or have a spin on the subject that you haven’t thought about and often you can come across as a worrier or a ‘scaremonger’ without actually meaning to.

The more savvy, effective way to draw someone’s attention to something tricky is to present it as a challenge or something to solve and introduce it that way.

Here are a few quick examples for you to introduce the thing you’re a bit concerned about or see as a potential problem but without labelling it as one at the outset:

  • Now, here’s something I know you’ll have some thoughts on…
  • What ideas do you have about…?
  • This could be a bit tricky, how will we get around this…
  • I’ve been thinking about this and know that you’ll be able to help…
  • How are we going to avoid…?

By presenting the information in the form of a challenge or by presuming that the other person will have ideas about it or a solution you do three savvy things, straightaway:

  1. You come across as someone open to a challenge and always looking for the solution; 
  2. You prime the other person to be up for the challenge by presuming they’ll be able to help and posing them a helpful question rather than presenting them with a problem (what ideas do you have? how can we? what do we do about?);  
  3. You avoid that whole scaremonger, doom-and-gloom way “what I’m afraid of is” and “the worst thing is” by actually planting the suggestion of blocks or bumps in the road and scaring people off.

So, the next time you hear someone say “well, the trouble is”, presume that they really only need to flip it and think to yourself “well, the trick here is, how do we…?” and then off you go and lead the hunt for the solution.


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Kay White

Savvy & Influential Communication for Ambitious Women in Business,