THURSDAY THOUGHTS! - How do you handle tough questions?

Posted by | September 27, 2012 | Thursday Thoughts | No Comments

Everyone, at one time or another, finds themselves in situations where they have to handle tough questioning.  Are you a waffler or someone who freezes when this happens?  Is your coping strategy one of telling the questioner everything you possibly know about the subject or do you actively slow things down to give yourself time to think and calmly answer the question with  something featured on our picture this week?

“How do you handle tough questions?”

There are real strategies available to you if you find yourself going scarlet and freezing.  Some successful ones I’ve used in the past include:

  • ask for clarification if the question is unclear to you (“is your main concern about …?”
  • share and stop – state your message and supporting points, check whether the questioner is satisfied, then stop as decisively as you started (don’t just tail off!)
  • focus on what you know and what you believe is relevant, then ask for clarification
  • hypothesise (“I haven’t looked at that yet, but my hypothesis would be …”)
  • Tell the truth!  “I’m sorry, I haven’t looked into that yet.  Does anyone else have ideas?  If not I’ll look into it”
  • Boomerang!  Redirect the question back to the person who asked it or to a group (“interesting point – what are other people’s views?”)
  • Problem solve – think aloud – involve others if possible (“Suppose we tried x – could that work?”)

I’m sure there are plenty of others too.  What are yours?  I’d love to hear about what worked well for you in these situations.  Please share!

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Sharon Davidson
Organisational development professional specialising in personal, team and whole organisation improvement. Full range of OD tools and techniques available including: Belbin team role analysis; learning style inventories; 360 degree feedback; cultural assessments; personality psychometrics; strategic planning and workshop facilitation. (This list is not exhaustive!)

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  • Alison Crawford says:

    I think I’ve used all of the coping strategies you’ve mentioned Sharon. I think the real trick is to accept that you cann’t possibly be an expert in everything, and that its OK not to know the answer to a tough question. I try and surround myself with great staff so that in many cases I can defer to their technical expertise if that’s the right way to go. If the question is something that I ‘should’ be able to answer, I try and work it through rationally with the facts at hand and make some reasonable assumptions for unknowns.

    For example I often get asked how long it will take to deliver a piece of work, when there are so many variables outside my control that it is impossible to predict this accurately. In these cases I push back by asking lots of questions of the requester, which in many cases highlights the lack of clarity around what they require of me and my team, but it’s a good place to start.

  • Peggy Edwards says:

    it depends, if it is something I know nothing about then I am honest and make sure I follow up later. Mostly I focus on what is relevent, seek clarification on what the issue is and then share what I know. If it is relevant to all those in the room, then I make sure I include all in those who need to know. There is nothing worse than being fobbed off and then never getting that response that is promised.

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