Handle Questions About Your Flaws
Let's admit the truth. None of us is perfect. There are no perfect products. No system is perfect. No organization is perfect.
So don't pretend to be perfect or try to project an image of perfection to your clients, colleagues or the public. I didn't say that you need to reveal all your flaws. Just don't defend when someone points out a mistake. Admit the error and move on.
If you are not perfect this means that you made some mistakes along the way. And someone will point out that past failure, complain about poor performance or challenge you on a flaw.
You might have heard the analogy that an airplane is off course 80% of the time. The pilot or autopilot needs to keep adjusting to get to the destination. As long as you arrive safely at the destination you probably don't care how many course corrections were made.
Consider these three scenarios:
You are speaking to a group of clients to launch a new product or promote a program. A person in the audience loudly grumbles about defective product in the last shipment.
You are training staff how to use a new technology. An individual points out that this is inferior technology and your competition has already upgraded.
You are reporting the status of a project to a management committee. An astute manager reminds the group about past failed promises and questions your capability as a project leader.
How can you handle these unfriendly questions?
The first thing is to focus on your destination not on the errors or course corrections.
If you focus on the flaw, the danger is that you might trap your thinking into defending the flaw. If you do that, you will appear guilty.
Instead, break the question or challenge into at least two parts.
Step One - Admit the truth
Say, "I hear two questions there. The first question is 'Is our system perfect? The answer is no. We have experienced an X percent defect rate. That is better than the industry average but we still want to improve. That's why we invested Y dollars in process improvement over the past five years."
Acknowledge the flaw and explain what you are doing to address it.
Step two - Accentuate the positive
The second question I heard is "Does our warranty program continue to be the best in the industry? The answer is yes. If you haven't yet reported this issue then I'm happy to help you resolve this setback."
Sometimes there might be a third question.
The third question is "How can you help our team successfully complete this project?" Then you tell the committee exactly what you want from them.
Most reasonable people simply expect you to acknowledge the truth and tell them what you are doing to fix things.
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