3 steps for responding to emotionally charged questions

Simple, cold facts won’t cut it when you’re dealing with people who’ve suffered a great loss—nor will platitudes. Connect first, and then learn more so you can make a difference.

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Let’s say you represent a government agency and have been scheduled to speak at a local community meeting.

A natural disaster occurred in that town—a major flood, perhaps—and local residents are furious at what they see as your agency’s inaction to help them rebuild.

In such a heated environment—one in which people have suffered the loss of life, work or property—you can expect to be asked emotionally charged questions.

Your response must align with the audience’s emotional concerns. Responding to emotionally heavy questions with facts alone isn’t enough. People want to know—and feel—that you “get it.”

The A-A-a Formula

When you’re asked an emotional question, remember the A-A-a Formula: Acknowledge, Answer, and advocate. (The “a” in the final step is in lower case, because you’ll use it only occasionally.)

The first step in demonstrating that you get it is to acknowledge the audience member’s concerns before rushing into an answer.

That means you should never lead into an answer with a well‐meaning but potentially inflammatory platitude: “I completely understand your concerns.”

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