Under Attack 

In some presentation meetings, senior managers act aggressively, asking challenging questions. They overtly challenge the findings and recommendations, and making it clear that they are not in agreement with what is being proposed. The senior manager ego can shine through. This can be uncomfortable, causing marketers to either act aggressively back or to retreat quietly to their corner – responses that are unlikely to end well. So, how should marketers respond when under attack?

Don’t Meet Aggression With Aggression 

When senior manager ego shows its aggressive side, it can often be nothing to do with the presenter or presentation itself. Instead, this may be due to the senior manager wanting to reinforce how powerful they are to their peers, or to make a project that is not to their advantage go away. When being asked these challenging questions, it’s important that the presenter doesn’t show the senior manager up or humiliate them in front of their peers by getting aggressive back – the person with most power will almost undoubtedly win any head-on battle. Neither should they retreat quietly to their corner, nor crumble under the attack – as this will make them look unconfident in their recommendations or weak. For example, an HR Director presented a fairly straightforward recommendation to the Board. But, unbeknownst to them, it fell directly after a tough Board discussion on another difficult topic. Given the recommendations were so straightforward, with everyone seemingly bought in beforehand, the HR Director had skimped on the pre-meeting preparation and presented in an easy, breezy way with a lack of authority and conviction. Given the high level of tension in the room caused by the previous presentation, a senior manager became pedantic, taking exception with some of the smaller detail, and threatening to blow out the whole recommendation. Rather than address the challenging questions head-on, the HR Director humiliated the senior person by saying “But I took you through this last week and you agreed it then” – suggesting that the senior person was forgetful and not on the ball. The senior manager ego took the HR Director to pieces, and the recommendation was blown out.

Under The Ego

In these situations, the presenter should go “under the ego” by not challenging the senior manager head-on. Instead, they should:
  • Show respect for the senior manager’s point of view, by pausing and taking the time to listen to, understand and respect their concerns, and responding to them.
  • Be the voice of truth, by stating the right thing for the company, and for them as a senior team, by being factually firm and staying true to the facts.
  • Look for ways to find a win-win solution that is mutually acceptable.
For example, when under attack, appropriate responses might be:
  • “I respect your view as the legal counsel. But I am the HR Director and from my perspective it seems that…
  • “You’re the CEO and you’ll make the decision, I respect that. But you pay me to give my point of view as the Head of Marketing and my point of view is that…”

In summary

When senior managers act aggressively, marketers shouldn’t take it personally. It may well be nothing to do with the presenter or presentation itself, but instead be due to the senior manager wanting to reinforce how powerful they are to their peers, or to make a project that is not to their advantage go away. Consequently presenters shouldn’t get aggressive back, nor retreat quietly to their corner. Instead they should show respect for the senior manager’s point of view by listening to understand, be the voice of truth by stating what is in the company’s interests and staying true to the facts, and look for ways to find a win-win solution that is mutually acceptable. See how Ruth helps clients through consulting, training, speaking and coaching. Connect with Ruth on LinkedIn here.

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