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How to Push Back

Question:  One part of account management is being in the service business, and within that function you often play the role of facilitator to the client, to the creative teams and to our supervisors. 

This doesn’t mean you have to be a “yes man.”  And there will be times when you will disagree and need to push back.

So an important question becomes, “What are some of the ways to do this without creating frustration or alienation?”

Answer: The first part of the answer is that 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 defuse that.

The second part of answering this question is that whatever you do, it must be done in as positive and constructive a way as possible.  You need to keep the discussion focused on the content of the issue, not how you’re responding to it.  No one ever wants to feel stupid or that they are not being listened to.

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, on which you as the account manager are an “expert.”
  • 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.  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 a selective basis, sometimes it could make sense to bring in your supervisor or someone with greater clout to make your case.  While this is not preferable, sometimes the “who says it” factor can be important, especially if the senior person is well-trusted or has a relationship with the person you are dealing with.

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.



Bruce Kelley

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