Dealing with Rude Questions

Sadly, rudeness is on the rise. The old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” almost seems quaint today. Mean spirited comments are everywhere. How should a presenter or speaker deal with a rude question during Q & A?

As I begin to answer this question, I’m going to quote an email that came into my mailbox recently from the Universe.

No kidding. I get emails from the Universe thanks to Here what it said:

"When someone behaves poorly, Cheryl, it's always because they've forgotten how powerful they really are, how beautiful life is, and how much they're loved."

--The Universe.

I like this approach. If you recast a rude person as a hurting person, the situation seems less threating. Yes, it’s still annoying, but it will be easier to unhook from the impulse to fight, flight or freeze impulse.

I once had a client, let’s call him Victor, who got hit with a nasty question as soon as he opened up the floor for questions:

“Okay Victor, are you actually suggesting that we buy-in to your skewed version of reality?”

From the back of the room I watched as Victor stood frozen in place. His face flushed. He looked uncertain. Victor was being attacked and he knew it.

The crowd was siIent, wondering what Victor would do. You could hear a pin drop. Everyone saw him take a deep breath, pause, and grapple with what to say. Later Victor shared his thought process with me.

“The obnoxious guy from Asset Protection is always trying to prove how smart he is! I wanted to shut him down. I really did. Then I remembered your advice. You told me that it always backfires when a speaker humiliates an audience I tried to take the high road.”

After taking a moment, Victor gave a masterful answer.

He nodded and said, “I’ll admit, we’re proposing a radical shift in strategy; one we hope you agree is necessary. We want everyone to feel comfortable with our conclusions. Are there specific concerns I can address to build your confidence?”

Victor shifted his eye contact away from the rude questioner, and turned his attention to the rest of the room. This discouraged follow-up from the individual who was negative, and allowed Victor to expand the conversation. A few hands went up and he was able to clarify a few minor concerns. The rest of the Q & A went very well.

Later Victor found out that the Asset Protection manager was upset that he hadn’t been consulted on the project.

Because Victor stayed professional and respectful, the outburst reflected badly only on the questioner. Victor’s reputation was unharmed.

Reasons don't excuse rude behavior. I wish dispirited people would keep their judgmental opinions to themselves. When they don’t, I hope Victor’s story helps you take the high road when you are in front of the room.

Stay Strong,


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