Pushing back

It’s a very sensitive one. As an account handler you’ll be managing conflict & providing a critical point of view pretty much every day of your career.

But how do you push back diplomatically whilst remembering that we’re in the service business. You’ll often play the role of facilitator to the client, to creative teams, to supervisors/managers but this doesn’t mean you need to be a yes man. You need to be the ‘Yes but…’ man. And master the art of the ‘Yes Sandwich’. 

What are some ways of handling these situations without creating frustration or alienation?

So you’ve just taken the phone call & are getting feedback that is challenging. First – before you go about pushing back, make sure that you have communicated that you “get” the issue or problem.  Many people will first assume that if you don’t agree with them, it’s because you didn’t understand them.  You need to work hard to defuse this & build some empathy early on. You have 2 ears/1 mouth & now is a good time to practice some proportional usage.

Next – whatever you do, it must be done in a positive and constructive way.  You need to keep the discussion focused on the content of the issue, not how you’re responding to it.  Focus on the underlying issues & try to slow things down so that can think.

In terms of push back, obviously every issue is unique and the push back needs to be customized to fit the situation.  But here are some generic things to consider:

  • Ground your push back or disagreement in a business-related reason.  Opinion is important, but if the client/creative/supervisor sees that it is the business that is driving your concern/disagreement, then it takes personal judgment and personality out of the equation and keeps it focused on the content. This is much easier for you to talk around & use props to support facts not opinion – eg the brief, the contact report, the email chain etc
  • Look for examples in analogous situations (in and out of the category) that support your case.  Truth be told, most people tend to be risk averse, and demonstrating what others have done in similar situations may lessen the fear of doing something new or make them think twice about repeating a similar mistake.
  • Have a recommended alternative solution.  It’s easy to say, “I disagree,” but it’s a lot more difficult to develop, present and sell a different solution. You’ll need to buy time to discuss with the team on alternatives. No one likes surprises – neither clients nor team members. It also is usually beneficial to enlist the support of a “co-conspirator” who is trusted by the person you are pushing back against.
  • On really big issues it’s worth getting everyone in the room. Take the phone out of the game. Write down the feedback/actions, work these through with the team & come back with a plan that gets you to win/win. Do not end up with a ‘someones screwed’ scenario where someone in the team has to carry the can for a shitty process.

On a final note, be sensitive to when you need to give up the fight.  If you are not going to win, you at least want to get to the point where you have not angered or alienated anyone, but you have gained great appreciation for having a point of view and not being afraid to stand up and support it.

Good luck with pushing back & if it’s done well you’ll build trust/integrity & develop the relationship for your agency.


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