Thursday, January 29, 2009
Learn How to Handle Those Tough Questions
Many of us are more comfortable sending e-mails or memos at work, never having to directly face other human beings who — gasp! — want to ask us questions.
But sometimes you have to speak with people face-to-face, and sometimes it can get uncomfortable. Like when you're required to make off-the-cuff remarks or answer difficult questions.
“Why are you late with that project?" “You're being paid more than me and we do the same job. Do you think that's fair? “I know we don't get along, but will you be a reference for me?” These are a few of the queries we might be asked that put us on the spot, making us long for our keyboard where we would have time to tap out a response.
Of course, you want to sound reasonable when someone asks you a question. You want to sound intelligent. But somehow your brain goes into denial, causing you to stammer and then blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Then for hours or even days, you beat yourself up about how you should have given a better response, but you were unprepared for the question.
And that's the key. In order to avoid being caught flat-footed, you must be aware of what questions may be asked, and then write out what your answer should be. And, of course, don’t assume because a subject is unpleasant that someone won’t bring it up.
That's why the first thing you've got to do is give some consideration to the questions from hell that may come your way, then decide what a reasonable response will be. If you can’t come up with an appropriate answer ("How much money do you make?" then ask someone else for help. That way, you get the answer with the right "spin" and one that you feel makes sense.
If you feel like you need to gain better control over your face-to-face interactions, here are some tips that may help:
* Keep moving. Let's say you're giving a presentation or speech, and someone asks a question. Provide a concise answer, but try to move onto other audience members as soon as you can. That way more people feel included, and keeps you from getting into long-winded discussions or confrontations with just one person.
* Build in thinking time. When you're asked a question, repeat a few words of it back to the person. This gives you time to formulate your answer. It also helps take some of the bit out of a hostile or awkward question. You can ask the person something like, "What would you like to see happen?" or "In your opinion, what is the best outcome?"
* Keep the answer manageable. If you are asked a difficult question that defies a quick answer, break it down by saying, "There are three parts to my answer and the first part is..." This helps you keep track of where you're going and makes the other person feel like you're giving a thoughtful answer.
* Don't admit ignorance. Perhaps you don't know the specific answer to a question, but you can say, "That's a great question, and I'm looking into it. But did you know that..." This helps you save face and still provides your listener with information.
What are some other ways to deal with tough questions?