Communication,  Executive Presence,  Leadership

Hesitating Challenging Others? Try These Five Graceful Steps

George, a VP at a Fortune 500 company, had a reputation for being insightful yet reserved. Despite his analytical prowess and humble personality, he often found himself silent during crucial meetings, especially when senior leaders were present. Feedback from his peers highlighted this issue: George wasn’t speaking up.

When I asked George about his hesitation, he shared his worry of coming across as negative. He could easily sense when something wasn’t right, but voicing his concerns felt risky. Avoiding conflict had been his strategy for a while, but now it was hindering his growth.

To help George overcome this challenge, we devised a practical strategy to enable him to express his views constructively and confidently.

1. Stay Open and Suspend Judgment

The first step was for George to recognize when he felt judgmental. He learned to:

  • Take a few mindful breaths to relax and shift to open listening.
  • Jot down the points that bothered him, creating a mental pause before reacting.

2. Build Alignment

Next, George needed to establish a positive connection with his colleagues. We focused on:

  • Finding something positive about the speaker, no matter how small. This approach helped George maintain a friendly demeanor, which was reflected in his body language and facial expressions.
  • Nodding and acknowledging the speaker’s viewpoint to show he was listening and considering their perspective.

3. Paraphrase and Acknowledge

To ensure clarity and mutual understanding, George practiced paraphrasing what he agreed on:

  • “I understand your point about X, which is important because Y.”

4. Ask Curious Questions

Rather than confronting directly, George learned to ask questions that showed genuine curiosity:

  • “Can you help me understand how this approach addresses [specific concern]?”
  • “What do you think would happen if we considered [alternative idea]?”

5. Master the Graceful Exit

Not every disagreement warranted a direct challenge. We discussed how to exit gracefully:

  • If the issue were minor, George would nod, thank the speaker, and move on.
  • For more significant concerns, he would thank them and suggest a follow-up discussion to delve deeper into the issue.

Final Thoughts

George’s journey wasn’t just about speaking up; it was about speaking up with purpose. As a leader, his role was to facilitate progress, not to dominate the conversation. Here are the guiding principles we focused on:

  • Always be clear about your intention. Aim to contribute positively rather than to show off or undermine others.
  • Strive to help others save face and look good, fostering a collaborative environment.
  • Add value and work towards making the situation better.

By adopting these strategies, George gradually became more confident in expressing his insights, leading to more dynamic and productive meetings. His ability to challenge ideas with grace and substance not only enhanced his leadership presence but also drove his team toward greater success.

Feature image is by TungArt7 at

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