5 Ways Bickering Politicians or Anybody Else Can Get a Conversation Back On Track
While it was hard for the candidates to get a word in edgewise in last night’s fierce Republican debate, we’ve all been there ourselves. Whether you’re in a meeting, making your point, all eyes are on you, and BAM . . . your mind goes blank. Or you’re listening to a client or colleague talk on and on, when suddenly you realize you lost track of what they are saying, or worse, you don’t understand what they’re talking about.
Believe it or not, getting off track in a conversation is great information if you use it well. When the candidates last night found their discussion going off the rails or were harshly interrupted by audience jeers or another candidate, it would have suited them to know just how to get their conversations back on track. When facing similar situations in your workplace, there are steps to take that will help you recover.
1: Stop and take a moment.
When you find yourself losing your train of thought, like Dr. Ben Carson seemingly did in what many are calling a “rambling” response about nominating a Supreme Court Justice that included a misquoted a biblical passage, don't get choked up or scramble to cover the error. Instead, take a deep breath and hit pause. There is nothing wrong with taking a moment to gather yourself again. Scrambling will only make you, and your client or audience, more flustered and upset.
2: Be honest.
While honesty is hard to come by in politics, it goes a long way in public speaking. Most people can relate to going astray in conversation, so if you find yourself off track, be candid with your audience or the person talking. If you were the one speaking, tell the truth by letting them know, “I’m sorry -- I’m getting a little off track here.”
Simply naming the dynamic can ease everyone’s mind. How many times have you watched someone struggle to bring a conversation back around and wished they would just say, “Give me a minute” rather than continue floundering?
3: Use data as feedback to re-establish rapport.
There was a moment in the debate when Rubio asked Trump to extrapolate on the points of his healthcare plan that he didn’t understand. Should there be a time when you too find yourself not understanding a speaker’s points, don’t blame yourself. Use the fact that you got off track as great feedback that you need more information to re-establish connection with the speaker. Ask them, “I’m not following. Would you help me along?” Or, “I lost you at the point where… Would you please bring me up to speed from there?” Showing interest in a colleague or customer never hurts, unless you’re making a highly technical pitch where you need to establish credibility, well, that or if you’re in a highly contentious political debate for the Presidential nomination.
4: Regain your bearings.
Watching the debate on CNN revealed repeated interruptions as condidates talked over each other. There were so many interruptions on the stage last night, the Miami Herald wrote that interrupting Trump was part of “Rubio’s debate strategy.”
Being faced with interruptions or questions during a presentation can easily send a speaker off track, which is what we saw in last night’s debate debacle. If you find yourself being interrupted in the middle of a workplace presentation, it’s perfectly fine to rewind and say, “Just to recap…” Repeating your most recent talking points may spur the interrupter to clarity. If the disruption was contentious, instead of getting detoured by the dig, talk through where you are and where you hope the conversation will be going.
Related: How to Politely Leave a Conversation
5: Assess everyone’s alignment.
Conversational conflict was alive and well in the GOP debate in Texas last night and it’s not uncommon to experience misalignment when speaking to a group in the office as well, especially if you have a CFO, COO, and CSO in the room that each want different things. Should you ever find yourself facing an array of argumentative responses from your audience, take a moment to ensure you’re still working towards the common goal by asking, “How close do you think we are to resolution?” and, “How aligned are we on a solution?” You may think you’re almost at a conclusion (and state that!) and they may say you’re miles away from the desired outcome. By assessing, you’ll make sure you’re all working towards the same vision.
Think of it like driving. When you start to go in the wrong direction or take a wrong turn, you consult your map or GPS. You reroute and come up with a new plan. As you move ahead, you assess how far you are from your destination as well as your ETA. You don’t just pull over and say “forget it” or back out of the trip.
I think we can all agree that the debate last night was a battle of egos, but following these steps in a good faith business conversation will give you the tools to keep the ball rolling and help save you from riding off the rails.