So gehen Sie souverän mit Vorwürfen um

Manche Kritik – ob sie nun von der Kollegin, dem Chef oder einem Mitarbeiter kommt – ist berechtigt: Jeder macht schließlich Fehler. Aber manche weisen andere besonders gern auf ihre (echten oder vermeintlichen) Fehler hin, und das nicht immer in konstruktiver Form. Wie Sie mit Vorwürfen jeder Art umgehen und sich effektiv zur Wehr setzen, erfahren Sie jetzt.


To err is human – and to blame it on a computer is even more so.

Robert Orben, US-American magician and comedy writer

Die wichtigste Regel

Imagine you‘re in a meeting and your colleague Sam suddenly tells you, “You know that I always speak my mind openly. Right now I think you‘re ill-prepared and you don‘t really know what‘s at stake.“

And everybody‘s heard that!

What do you do? Freeze? Or desperately seek for a witty answer? Or explain yourself?

Whatever your first thoughts might be, try not to explain yourself or fight back right away! Stay calm and listen. And then …

Kontern Sie mit einer Gegenfrage

One of the most effective means to deal with someone who attacks you is to ask a question yourself. This way you at least gain some time and most probably get your adversary into trouble, because it’s his turn now to find an answer.

There are several types of questions that work. Most effective are the following ones.

Verlangen Sie konkrete Aussagen

Abstract and general approaches can easily be countered by asking for the statement to be substantiated:

  • What exactly do you think is at stake?
  • Would you please explain precisely what’s at stake in your opinion?

Here are some more critical statements with appropriate counter-questions:

  • I have objections in principle. ? Would you please specify your objections?
  • Your presentation is quite boring. ? What exactly do you mean by ‘boring’? What aspect bores you and why? 

Negatives positiv wenden

Every negative character trait has a positive side, too. It just depends on the way you look at it. For example, someone who’s acting frantically could positively be called dynamic. Someone who’s naive could also be called open-minded. Stingy and pennywise are two words describing the same trait from different angles, and there are many more pairs of words like that.

By replacing the negative word from the reproach with the appropriate positive word, you can also change the direction of the conversation and the opinions of the audience. Look at the following reaction to the accusation at the beginning of this section:

  • In fact, I’m quite open-minded concerning today’s issue. What aspect do you think we should focus on more thoroughly?

Exercise: Negatives positiv wenden

Can you find at least two positive words for every one of the following? You might need them “when the going gets tough” in your next meeting!

1. lame, feeble :::
2. stubborn :::
3. hostile :::
4. indecisive :::

Positives negativ wenden

If the antagonist tells you something about his (positive) self-image, you could also use the negative-positive approach. In our example, the antagonist says that he “speaks his mind openly“. You might tell him something like this:

  • You might view yourself as speaking bluntly but to me it sounds offensive and hurtful. That’s because you don’t treat me with the respect I deserve as your colleague.

In many cases, that should be enough to make your adversary think about what he‘s said – or at least to get the audience on your side. 

Die Profi-Taktik

Do you have to deal with defeatists every now and then? You can silence them by using the strategies just mentioned. First, substitute the negative trait in the attack with a positive one. Secondly, ask for substantiation, or for constructive criticism. And if you feel the necessity to use the third strategy as well, just go ahead. Your adversary is unlikely to prevail!

Suchen Sie nach Hilfe

If there are more people involved than just you and your adversary you can compel the others to support you.

  • I’d like to get some other opinions on this. Does anyone agree with Sam?

Kontern Sie extreme Angriffe

You may have to cope with people who attack you in most unfair ways. But if someone takes it to the extreme they are often unaware of the consequences of their actions. You can make them aware by just mirroring their attack, e.g.

  • You’re absolutely incompetent! ? You ‘re saying that I’m absolutely incompetent?
  • You don‘t know anything about raising money! ? Did you just say that I don‘t know anything about raising money?

Sounds simple but it’s more effective than any other strategy, because in most cases the attacker hasn’t realised how outrageous his statement really is. He’ll probably back down.

Ist die Kritik berechtigt?

No matter how rude the tone, sometimes implicit or explicit criticism is accurate. Maybe your boss blames you for a mistake you really made. In that case you shouldn’t try to find excuses – just acknowledge your mistake. By that you take the wind out of the sails of even the rudest attacker.

Continue by explaining what you will do in the future to avoid the same mistake and/or ask their opinion on effective measures you could take.

Answer key Exercise: Negatives positiv wenden

1. lame, feeble – prudent, judicious, cool-headed, calm, 2. stubborn – determined, ambitious, 3. hostile – sceptical, restrained, 4. indecisive – openminded

Vocabulary Box
acknowledge a mistake – einen Fehler zugeben
ambitious – ehrgeizig
back down – einen Rückzieher machen
be at stake – auf dem Spiel stehen
bluntly – frei heraus, unverblümt
consider in all its bearings – etwas in seiner ganzen Tragweite betrachten
cool-headed – gelassen
defeatist – Miesmacher
determined – zielstrebig
feeble – lahm, kraftlos
frantic – hektisch
hostile – feindselig
indecisive – unentschlossen, nicht entscheidungsfreudig
judicious – besonnen
objections – Bedenken
pennywise – sparsam
prevail – die Oberhand behalten, gewinnen
prudent – besonnen
reproach – Vorwurf
restrained – zurückhaltend
speak one‘s mind openly – offen sagen, was man denkt
stingy – geizig
substantiation – Begründung
take measures – Maßnahme ergreifen
troubleshooting – Fehlerbehebung
when the going gets tough – wenn es hart auf hart kommt
witty – geistreich, originell
I‘m Thirsty A small boy is sent to bed by his father. Five minutes later: „Da-ad…“
„I‘m thirsty. Can you bring a drink of water?“
„No, you had your chance. Lights out.“
Five minutes later: „Da-aaaad…“
„I‘m THIRSTY. Can I have a drink of water?“
„I told you NO! If you ask again, I‘ll have to spank you!“
Five minutes later: „Daaaa-aaaad…“
„When you come in to spank me, can you bring a drink of water?“
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