Why can't people communicate? The New York Times author, writer Jay Sullivan is sure: because everyone wants to talk about themselves. And to be heard, you need ... to be able to listen. "Snob" publishes an excerpt from the book "Simply put: How to write business letters, conduct presentations, communicate with colleagues and clients" (publishing house "Alpina Publisher") - about how to react if you are asked a question, the answer to which you do not know
Improving your communication skills means learning to be even more present in the moment and be even more useful to those around you. This is especially true for answering questions during a meeting or presentation. When a person asks a question, he reveals to you something about himself, about his thoughts and feelings on a given topic. For some, it takes a lot of determination to put themselves on the public eye by asking a question during a speech that is attended by many people. They put themselves in a knowingly vulnerable position, showing that they do not know or understand something. By responding respectfully and to the point, you contribute greatly to your relationship with your audience and with that particular person.
What if you are asked about something that you do not know?
This is what we all fear when we plan to speak in front of an audience or in a meeting. How can we prepare for any scenario? We can't, so don't even try! Moreover, if you are well prepared for your presentation, chances are you will have answers to every possible question. Anything that may catch you off guard will only be indirectly related to the topic or require knowledge of such details that you did not expect. In any of these cases, the audience is likely to take your ignorance with condescension.
Moreover, in many professions, the value you bring to an exchange is not that you have all the answers. Your value is different: you understand the situation so well that you can ask the right questions, and then go and find the answers. At the same time, you will feel more confident if you equip yourself with a few techniques to effectively answer questions on the spot.
Here are four steps to answering the questions:
Listen to the whole question.
Take time to think.
Answer and support your main point.
Invite the next question.
Maintain eye contact in each of these steps, as well as body language that speaks of openness and interest. Let's consider each step in detail.
Listen to the whole question.
It is impossible to answer a question correctly if you heard it wrong. Often, listening to a question, we hear a kind of "magic word" that evokes a specific reaction in us. This leads to the fact that we stop listening and begin to formulate an answer or guess about the speaker's motive. If we started to formulate an answer, we automatically stopped listening to the question. If the question deviates from the direction that we thought of for ourselves, then when we answer, we will not hit the target. You may have an excellent answer, but not the question that was asked. Listen to the whole question. Very soon you will have time to think about a good answer.
Take time to think
We are able to think ten times faster than we can speak. This means that if you say a few words between the question and the beginning of your answer, you will have ten times more time to think about a quality answer.
There are two main techniques for buying time to think. In Chapter 4, we discussed the importance of maintaining eye contact. We also said that thinking is a matter that requires personal space. It is difficult to maintain eye contact and think at the same time. However, if you look away while contemplating the question, it may seem like you are avoiding the questioner's gaze or are simply coming up with an answer. Therefore, you need simple techniques, almost reflexes, to use without thinking.
Technique 1: repeat or rephrase the question
The repetition or paraphrase of the question you just heard requires almost no mental energy. Therefore, in doing this, you are able to maintain eye contact. You can repeat the question in whole or in part, or rephrase it to minimize negative connotation. Whatever you do with the question, repeat it as a statement rather than as a question.
Question: "How are things with us with the project schedule?"
Full repetition: "How are we doing with the project schedule"
Partial repetition: "Graph"
Question with negative connotation: "How late are we compared to schedule?"
Paraphrase: “Time frame. What do we have with the terms of specific stages? "
In both cases, you have gained a few seconds to find the best answer. Let the repetition or paraphrase of the question be a separate sentence from the answer. The brain formulates the whole sentence. If you make the repetition of the question the first part of your answer, you reduce your flexibility in the answer itself.
Question: " What time is the meeting today?"
The less successful answer uses the repetition of the question as part of the answer: "Meet today at 2 o'clock."
Instead, it is better to repeat the question in a separate sentence. You will have more flexibility in your response.
More apt: “Today's meeting. We start later than usual at 2 o'clock. "
Technique 2: use the "introductory phrase"
In this case, an introductory phrase means any group of words that follows the question, but before the answer and characterizes either the questioner or the question itself.
Typical introductory phrases are:
"I'm glad you asked about this."
More complex introductory phrases include the content of the question:
"It's great that you're worried about the timing."
"In this case, cost is a key element that we need to talk about."
To use introductory phrases effectively, you need to avoid monotony and insincerity.
If you use the same phrase all the time, it sounds learned and insincere. This is why you should have several options at your disposal.
It's also important to be sincere. From school years, we know that there are no stupid questions. But from the experience of business meetings, we get that in fact there are plenty of stupid questions. When someone asks a stupid question - most often either irrelevant or just asked by another participant in the meeting - you cannot say that this is a great question. This will sound disingenuous. Instead, you can use a neutral introductory phrase.
Let's take a few minutes for this.
"It will probably be useful to talk about this in even more detail."
In both cases, you are not commenting on the quality of the question. You just earn yourself a few seconds looking for an answer. In such situations, avoid introductory phrases that can be perceived as a reprimand.
"As I just said ..."
"Once again, I think ..."
"Well, let's repeat what has already been said ..."
Many people think that such tricks are a way to play for time. Quite right! You gain a few seconds to formulate your answer better. When answering questions, it is not speed that matters, but quality.
What is a better answer? Often you need other pronouns to sound in it. Remember, our natural tendency is self-centeredness. Our responses usually affect us or the content of our speech. If you have a few moments to come up with the best answer, you are more likely to formulate the phrase not about yourself, but about the audience.
Question: "Why is this initiative so important to you?"
Egocentric response: "I am not indifferent to this initiative, because it allows me ...".
Introductory phrase and audience-focused response: “I'm glad you raised the issue of priorities. We talked about how you want to improve the effectiveness of your group. If we start working on this initiative, we have a better chance of achieving our goal. ”
It's important to know when you shouldn't take time to think.
Even in answering questions, the most important thing is your audience.
How often should you use time-wasting tricks? Not every time, but often enough to make it easy and natural. You will look more relaxed.
When should you not use these techniques? Sometimes answering a question directly is not just appropriate, but downright necessary. This is especially true in a situation where someone is asking the "attacker" question.
Attacker question: "Don't you think that with the help of such a trick you are just robbing your customers?"
Direct answer: “Not at all. This offer creates added value for customers. "
Using a delaying response technique in response to an attack would lead to a loss of credibility.
Offensive question: "Don't you think that you are just robbing your customers with a trick like this?"
Unsuccessful answer: “Are we stealing from customers? Thanks for asking about this. Let's take a few minutes and discuss if we are cheating our customers. "
There are times when you just need to answer a question.
Answer and support your main point
After you've bought time to think, it's time to answer the question. Answer shortly. When you tried to cram information into the allotted time, you had to throw away a lot of interesting things. The question asked does not give you carte blanche to dump on the listeners everything that you had to throw out before! A few sentences are enough. If possible and appropriate, try to reinforce the main point of your talk. There is never too much of the main thought.
If the person who asked the question is the key person for making a decision, you can ask if they need more information. If this is just one of the crowd of listeners, give a succinct answer and move on to the next question.
Invite to ask the next question
When answering questions after a major speech, you are responsible both to the person who asked the question and to the whole audience. When a person asks a question, look directly at him both during the "magic words" that stall for time, and during the first third or half of the answer. If one listener asked a question, it is possible that it is of interest to other people as well. During your short answer, turn your gaze to the other person in the room. And at the end of the answer, addressing him, raise your hand and say: "Are there any more questions?"
When you finish an answer while looking at the other person, you not only share information with multiple people, but you also avoid the situation of having a personal conversation with one listener. If you go to the person who asked the question all the time, they may feel obligated to ask another question. His second question will always focus more on the needs of that particular person than on the general topic of your conversation.
Answering an emotional question
From time to time, a question is born more out of feelings, and not out of rational considerations. When faced with an emotional question, you should answer carefully and thoughtfully. And be sure to connect with this person on the level of emotions!
When dealing with feelings, follow this three-step plan:
Go to the answer and answer.
Start with the question or statement itself.
Say: I (appreciate, understand, share).
Name the emotion: yours (doubts, frustration, anxiety).
Be specific about (budget, timeline, staff).
It is important to name the emotion, because in professional life, feelings are often perceived as something wrong. We must make decisions based on rational analysis, not emotional reactions. And at the same time, people are constantly experiencing emotions at work! We are delighted with the deal. We worry when a colleague leaves. We get worried when a company changes policy. By naming a feeling, we allow the person to experience it. If we do not bring out and discuss this emotion, it will remain at the level of an undercurrent, and the person will not hear our rational arguments.
There are two emotions that shouldn't be named.
"I can feel your pain."
This may sound like a cliché or lead the person to argue with you if you really understand their situation.
"I know you are angry."
If the person is angry and you call that emotion by name, chances are you will get one of two reactions.
“Damn it, of course I'm angry! I'm just beside myself! "
Instead of softening the situation, you escalated it.
"I am not angry. I am not angry!"
Some people deny their anger because they are afraid to look it in the eye. Now that the person hasn't admitted to feeling anger, you can't deal with that emotion, which reduces your ability to interact.
When you feel that the person is angry or has some other deeply hostile emotion, call it "anxiety." Worry is such a comfortable “all-encompassing” feeling.
"I know you are worried about this moment."
Worry sounds more mature than anger, frustration, or disappointment. It assumes that a person cares not only about himself. In most cases, people will readily describe what they are experiencing as anxiety.
The second step is to show that you, too, have been in a similar situation. For example:
"I felt the same as you."
"I felt that way too."
"If I were you, I would also like to know that."
Only show empathy when you can do it sincerely. In a business context, people tend to get upset about two things. Either they paid more for something than they intended, or they waited for something longer than they planned. We've all gone over budget or waited too long. You can almost always feel what it is like to be in the shoes of someone who is frustrated at work. However, if you don't understand the person's feelings, you can either ask them why they feel this way, or even better, just skip this step.
When showing empathy, do it calmly, with a spirit of openness and concern. You should sit in an open position, leaning slightly forward, or stand in a comfortable position with your arms at your sides. Maintain eye contact and speak in a muffled but compassionate voice. In some situations, it is worth asking the questioner for permission to answer, or offering some choice.
Ask permission to answer
Usually people get frustrated at work due to lack of control over the situation. We worry when we cease to control our position. Therefore, we help people calm down if we offer them at least a small amount of control, not necessarily over the situation, but at least over the discussion. Ask the person you are talking to if he wants to hear your reasons. By doing this, you shift the decision onto his shoulders, and the tension decreases. For example:
"Would it help if we told you what we are already doing in this area?"
"What information would you like to receive?"
"Would it help you if we ..."
If the listener answers “no” to all of these questions, you may ask, “What would help?” All these questions create the impression that you are a reasonable person who is trying to find a common language with the interlocutor.
Go to the answer and answer
Once you get permission to explain, you can reply.
Avoid the words "but" and "however".
Warning: between steps two and three, avoid the words "but" and "however."
"I know you are worried about this moment, but ..."
As soon as you said “but,” you destroyed all the positive interaction that you managed to build in the first two steps - recognition and empathy. .But. usually sounds like "but I don't care" or "but you shouldn't feel that way."
"However" has the same effect. When I’m going to leave the house in the morning and my wife says to me: “Honey, this is a wonderful tie. However… ”, I still don't know what exactly is wrong with my tie, but I already know that I will have to change it before getting behind the wheel.
Explain and offer a choice
Just answer. While explaining, you can ask other questions to make sure you understand. If the person is not happy with the explanation, you can offer the person with the strong feeling other options. For example:
"Do you want to see our analysis of the situation next Tuesday or next Thursday?"
Again, when you offer the listener different options, it gives them a sense of control over the situation and reduces hostility. And helps you come to an agreement.