This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Today we flash back 20 years and learn from a video of Steve Jobs at the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference. Jobs offers us an invaluable and enduring lesson in how to deal with a harsh critic.

Read the play-by-play below. Or watch the video up until two minutes in to glean the lesson—in fact, you can stop as early as 1:44.

Here’s the play-by-play:

  1. An audience member asks a provocative, edgy question that gets punctuated with a personal dig.
  2. Jobs takes a swig of water (I presume he’s composing himself).
  3. He begins to reply with a little levity (“You know, you can please some of the people some of the time …”), and then pauses for another eight seconds. For the record, this is a very long time. If you don’t think it’s long, try being quiet for eight seconds the next time someone says something confrontational and there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of eyes on you awaiting your next move.
  1. Jobs then proceeds to do the unexpected: he validates his opponent. He says, thoughtfully, “One of the hardest things, when you’re trying to affect change, is that people like this gentleman … are right …”
  2. He then acknowledges that the technology Mr. Hostile was advocating for probably does things that no other technology does.
  3. Then and only then Jobs proceeds to share what’s so challenging about technology choices from his perspective, thereby beginning to show insight into his own (differing) point of view.

Put yourself in Jobs’ shoes for a moment. There were so many other ways to reply, all of which could have been justified: ignoring, dismissing, slamming (nicely or otherwise).

Instead, Jobs shows us a great martial arts move. He takes the energy that comes at him, catches it, and carefully redirects it.

Or maybe it was a Zen Buddhist move.

Either way, beautifully done.

Make It Real

This week, notice how you tend to react when someone opposes you—with hostility or otherwise. How often do you disarm them by first validating their point of view?

Learn More

Speaking of Buddhist, read about how to think like a Buddhist and sell like a rock star, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on the fundamental truths of trust-building in Chapter 1 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).