You might want to develop a weapon besides the bazooka

In my first job after grad school, I was giving a client presentation when a junior staffer at the client asked me a question that I felt was dumb. And so during the presentation, in front of his boss and his boss’s boss, I ripped his question apart.

After the meeting, my mentor and manager pulled me aside and said “You know, you might want to develop a weapon besides the bazooka.” And pointed out how I had humiliated the client staffer, and that I was unlikely to get a lot of cooperation from him in the future. Oops.

I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but I was reminded of this recently when one of my partners and I sat through a pitch. At the end of the pitch, I pointed out a number of flaws in very terse fashion. My partner shared his own experiences, mentioned some challenges, and asked some gently-pointed questions. The team likely left the room thinking that my partner was really wise, and that they’d like to sit down with him. In contrast, they probably thought I was a d*$k.

I have to keep reminding myself — the goal of business communication is to make yourself understood, and to hopefully effect positive change. If you communicate in such a way that people write you off, well, hard to make progress from that point on.

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