Sometimes when an emotionally-stated challenge comes from an audience member, as much as 50% of the emotion behind the challenge might be the audience member feeling unheard. They don’t feel like their opinion is understood or being listened to, even if you think it is.

You, the speaker, start to feel under attack now too, because not only is someone asking you a challenging question, they’re doing it in an angry way.

Often, you can calm their anger by structuring your response like this:

1. I hear you. / I understand you. / That’s a good point.
2. Repeat their concern in your own words.
3. But we also have to… / But in order to… / But at the same time we…

The first two parts, the opening sentences, defuse the situation. They tell the angry person you understand their opinion, you know they disagree, and in fact you understand their opinion well enough that you can put it in your own words, you are not just saying an empty “I understand you.”

Then the third part, the “meat” of your response, shows the other side of the argument and tells them your position.

Sure, you will still have to deal with the substance of the challenge. But the explosive emotional part will be defused. You might even find you have a new friend in the audience, someone who just seconds ago was an angry protester.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life as an import buyer, and since 2006 has been teaching companies how to connect with their export customers better. His clients work for companies like Allianz, 3M, P&G, Citibank, and Reckitt Benckiser. He also walked across Turkey and wrote a book about it.