I was in a meeting when two senior leaders got into a heated disagreement right before it was my turn to present. The tension in the room was high and most of us just wanted to crawl under the table until it was over. We were short on time, so we tabled that debate and moved onto my topic, but the mood in the room was set – it was uncomfortable for everyone.

If you’ve ever been stuck in that moment where you have to take center stage after something awkward happened, you have choices. Here are a few:

  • Listen and summarize: When people disagree or argue, they usually aren’t listening to each other. Try summarizing your understanding of the issue. Even if you can’t resolve it, clearly articulating the essence of the issue might be enough to move on from the moment. Plus, it demonstrates you’re paying attention.
  • Take a break: Sometimes the best way to break the tension is to give the group a moment to reset and clear the air, even if a break isn’t in the agenda. Plus it might give enough time for the debaters to address their issue privately.
  • Tell a story: I chose this option. Instead of diving straight into the details, I shared a personal story about my topic. Stories have the power to ease tension and captivating people’s attention. And in my case, it warmed up the room just enough to reset the vibe and move us along in the agenda.

The more choices you can draw from, the more you’ll show up as confident and capable. What other choices have you made in cringe-worthy moments?

Therese Miclot is Proteus' Director of Facilitation Excellence. She delivers – and teaches others to deliver – dynamic, interactive, world-class learning experiences.

Proteus and Koppett set the standard for facilitation excellence. We’ve defined what great facilitators do, so you can assess facilitator performance accurately and consistently and benchmark with world-class organizations. Our approach supports facilitators at all levels with individualized feedback and targeted coaching to expand their range and increase their impact. Proteus International.com