How to respond after taking umbrage?

Let’s admit it- nobody likes to be put on the spot, especially at a press conference.

Here are 5 tips to bear in mind after you take umbrage at somebody's questions:

1. Keep calm
2. Thank the questioner
3. Seek clarification
4. Be positive (and funny)
5. PEEEL the question away

But first of all...

What does umbrage mean?

If this word looks familiar to you, you aren't the only one. The last name of Harry Potter's infamous Dolores Umbridge is in fact a play on the word 'umbrage', which means offence or annoyance. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to take umbrage is to take offense. Yikes!

The word gained national notoriety after SPH CEO, Ng Yat Chung, used it in his response to a reporter when asked about the publications' editorial integrity in face of the imminent restructuring. The “very unfortunate” outflow of emotion caused the word 'umbrage' to hit a record high of 200,000 Google searches on 6 May alone.

Here are 5 tips on how to take umbrage without ending up in endless memes and advertisements.

1. Keep calm

Whatever you do, do NOT lose your cool. Take a deep breath. Count to 3, or 100 if you need more time to compose yourself. A difficult question often comes with layered intentions. Whether the questioner is 'out to get you' or genuinely curious about what you have to say, overreaction is never a good look.

Remember- when they start judging you, it's 'cause you own the stage now. So take a moment and bask in the spotlight.

2. Thank the questioner

Source: GIPHY

Once you're ready to say something, open your mouth and say "Thank you for the question." Remember this. These words of gratitude will put you in the right frame of mind to start a conversation with the questioner.

3. Seek clarification

Source: GIPHY

Did you know "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" is one of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is important because

  1. You may have misheard the question;
  2. You may have misunderstood the question;
  3. The questioner may not even know what they are asking (Yes, it happens)

Asking for clarification before answering a question helps us understand what the questioner wants. Even the simple act of asking the questioner to repeat their question may cause them to rephrase the question. This will give you a different perspective and more importantly, buy time for you to formulate a response you'll be proud of 10 years from now.

4. Be positive (and funny)

Source: GIPHY

Albert Einstein once said: "In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity". So rejoice, my friends! Put on a smile and choose your words wisely.

Employ positive body language. Smile more and use open-hand gestures. Think Oprah when she walks out from behind the stage to greet the audience. Never use your fingers or cross your arms. Now you are ready for the question!

Replace inherently negative words like 'cost-cutting' with those that have positive connotations, such as 'cost-savings' or even 'efficient cost allocation'. Consider words like 'adjustment' or 'balance', instead of 'reduction'.

BONUS POINT: Be funny if you can. This is tricky because you may be tempted to crack a joke at the questioner's expense. No matter what, don't do that. Instead, make fun of yourself or the situation you find yourself in.

5. PEEEL the question away

Source: GIPHY

Start PEEEL-ing:

Point: Start with a strong statement about the point you're about to make
Explain: Discuss your point further with descriptions and explanations
Evidence: Bring out the receipts that address the 5W1H to add credentials to your point
Elaborate: Expand on why the receipts are relevant to add more weight to your argument
Link: Establish the connection between whatever you say here and the statement that led to the question that led to your umbrage

Don't disappoint your EL/GP teacher.

TL;DR Taking umbrage is okay, as long as you stay cool

Did you know the word 'umbrage' traces its roots to the Latin word umbra, meaning shadow. When something isn't clear in the shadows, it gives rise to ground for suspicion. There came about the current notion of 'umbrage' as offence or annoyance. But you know how it feels to be in the shadows? Cool. So stay that way when you take umbrage.

Here at Sendjoy, we want you to express better so you get to send joy to even the most difficult reporters.

Take care and stay safe.


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