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How to Respond to Critics and Write a Successful Rebuttal

There is no doubt that the first step to restoring your reputation is making your voice heard. As facts can’t be judged with only one version told, your turn will come to explain why you are right, or – at least – state the “truth” as you see it. That is when your rebuttal comes into play: your chance to tell your story, to defend yourself and possibly attack people who reported false information on you, your company or brand. Even though each case differs, here are some guidelines to make sure your rebuttal is well received and actually reaches its goal. Let’s start by asking: why are you writing a rebuttal in the first place?

Why writing a rebuttal

The goal of your rebuttal can be straightforward in some cases, more multifaceted in others. As a rebuttal addresses a critical issue, it is essential to plan it carefully and take all the necessary steps to make it effective. What’s your goal? In most of the cases, this will be:

  • defending yourself from an accusation
  • minimising the degree of something you are involved in
  • explaining in greater detail an issue
  • persuading a group of people to act the way you want

Defining your goal is critical if you want your words to resonate with your audience and have the impact you hope for.

Predicting the future

One of the key elements of a successful rebuttal is addressing potential questions that may arise in the minds of the readers/listeners. Being able to predict what people will think and what’s already in their thoughts is important because it allows us to provide the elements which will change their mind or provide the information they were looking for. Objections and counterarguments will be automatically addressed. So start by asking yourself: “What does my audience think?” If you start getting into the mind of your audience, you will be able to engage in an imaginary conversation. Simply put, you’ll have to incorporate the elements of such conversation in the body of your rebuttal, so that each item will be covered and the impact of your speech/article will be maximum. Research and anticipate, that’s the point. As author Seth Godin says, “Effective stories match the worldview of the people you are telling the story to”.

Blame vs Responsibility

Do not use defamatory language in order to prove your point. You cannot discredit your opponents by insulting them, so the most successful rebuttal will use a positive language and will address critical elements (such as false claims or accusations) in a relaxed way. Showing anger, anxiety and other negative feelings will result in less convincing communication. A recent case that can illustrate the point above is the letter to the public written by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers in response to news about a $1.35 million settlement between his former Diocese and the family of a boy who was allegedly victim of abuse by one of their priests. It is evident to the reader how the Archbishop focuses on blaming the media rather than restoring his credibility with positive statements. Here some excerpts:

[…] This past week local media, once again, provided deceitful and misleading information about situations in the Diocese of Peoria and in this Archdiocese. I am dutybound to denounce the impressions presented as false and harmful to many people. […] One might ask why the representatives of the media do not explore the records of those who are raising false and misleading statements, perhaps for their own benefit, and the records and personal lifestyles of either disgruntled former, or marginalized and retired clergy of either the Archdiocese of Newark or the Diocese of Peoria. One might also ask what are the true motivations of all who have become a part of these ‘traveling bandwagons’ — including our local media representatives and politicians? […] For any who set out to claim that I or the Church have had no effective part in the love and protection of children, is simply evil, wrong, immoral, and seemingly focused on their own self-aggrandizement. God only knows their personal reasons and agenda. We are still called to love them. And God will surely address them in due time. […] Sincerely in the Lord, Most Reverend John J. Myers Archbishop of Newark (via NJ.com)

Providing evidence

Your rebuttal can make use of emotional language and persuasive scripts, but if you are talking to an educated audience it’s essential to provide real evidence that supports your thesis. Use data, documents and whatever can give credibility to what you are saying. Don’t try to “sell” your idea with a persuasive attitude; rather, try to understand what your audience wants.

Being concise

As in many other types of communication, less is more. Although providing abundant information might prove your point effectively, a good rule to follow is trying to structure your speech/article in 2-3 points and avoid excessive length. Being persuasive is not about quantity but quality. Conciseness will help your rebuttal stand out as a clear, compact point of view that your audience will digest easily.

Is there any other piece of advice you consider useful when responding to critics?

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