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The Art of Starting Over

Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas September 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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Has this ever happened to you? You’re talking to your manager, a co-worker or a client, and you realize the conversation has gotten off on absolutely the wrong foot. You may have learned new and unexpected information from the other person that renders everything you’ve said irrelevant. You may have walked in with an assumption that was just not true. Or, you may find you’re not connecting, and tension and anger start to creep into the exchange. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a potentially productive professional conversation has become awkward and stilted—or even worse, super heated and combative. 

What do you do next? You have three options.

  1. Continue trying to make your point. The tension and awkwardness will likely escalate, and you’ll find that you and the other person are farther and farther apart.
  2. Bring the conversation to an abrupt end and exit stage left. Both of you will be left with a bad taste in your mouth.
  3. Salvage the situation with the judicious use of seven magic words: Do you mind if we start over?

This question is the Saint Bernard rescue dog that brings a warming barrel of brandy into the conversational arctic. People are forgiving. They want things to go well, and this question disarms them and eases the way to a new beginning. Try it yourself. The next time a conversation gets off on the wrong foot or veers off track, reset with this powerful question. Following are additional conversation rescue tactics.

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