Thinking Fast: How to answer tough questions

Everyone has experienced that awkward situation caused by a sudden, unexpected, and, of course, difficult question.

Everyone has ever needed to think quickly to answer something decisive, whether at work, at school, in a relationship, or in an argument with parents.

Knowing how to improvise is not just a gift of actors. Knowing how to improvise is a gift that you must develop in order to survive. I mean it.

The world would be too easy if we always knew what to expect. Unfortunately, we don't. That is why we must at least know how to react in these situations.

Often, the unexpected question does not arise only from the goal of getting an answer. Often, the unexpected question arises from the desire for the reaction.

Whoever asks you a complicated (and completely unexpected) question usually wants to see how you react to the subject. How calm, confident and assured you are.

We know: you will probably need to answer thousands of unexpected questions throughout your life, and they will arise in the most varied situations.

So we can't create a single answer and get you out of all of them, but we can give you some tips on how to come up with your own answer, regardless of the situation.

The methods we will list below are taken from the book "Thinking on your Feet" by Marin K. Woodall.

Always try to get more time

When someone throws a tricky question at us, our almost instant reaction is to jump out and respond with urgency as if the question were a bomb - or as if we were throwing hot potato chips.

We are afraid that silence will be read as hesitation or weakness, so we rush to answer anything and end up losing our way.

Responding on impulse usually results in sleepless nights because of a mind filled with, "what if I had said such and such a thing?"

To avoid this problem, try to gain time - even if you only get a few extra seconds.

Allow yourself to stop and think about the answer and organize your thoughts. This sounds like something that will take you hours, but your mind works very quickly and if you take a deep breath and don't get desperate, you will use a few seconds masterfully.

Just don't fill your train of thought with "hm" or "ahm". These groans indicate confusion! Don't be afraid to simply speak slowly and slowly while organizing your thoughts.

Another good tip is to repeat the question after it has been asked. While you are doing this, you gain time to form an answer.

Dealing with a vague or complex question

Questions come in many forms, and you are not always lucky enough to receive the clearest and most objective one. Often what you get is a vague, complex, and confusing question.

Don't try to guess what the person meant. Misinterpreting a question can seem offensive and often generate that retort: "that's not what I asked".

The most effective approach is to clarify the question: before giving an answer, create a better question. Besides helping you understand what was asked, you also gain time to think of an answer.

Here's how to do it:

Ask the person to repeat the question

Just as you have probably regretted and wanted to change an answer, many people also want to rephrase or have the chance to change their questions.

Asking someone to repeat a question is not arrogant, in fact, the request itself carries a professional air, you know?

Try, with clarity and patience, to ask, "Would you mind repeating the question? I want to make sure that I catch everything you said."

Ask for clarity

If the question is vague or out of place, answer it in a way that you could clarify the question by trying to specify what the person meant.

You can do this by questioning some key points of the question or asking the person to choose between options.

For example, your girlfriend was upset about something and asked you the reasons why you acted in a certain way. In response, you might ask, "Was it what I said to you before the party or in the car that made you upset?"

Ask for a definition

Often the same word can mean several things depending on the context, so to avoid confusion, be clear. Ask things like, "Before I answer this question, what do you mean by 'negligent'?" or "Let's debate this! But first, tell me what you mean by 'we're officially dating'.

Often, some people ask things with the goal of putting you on the wall. Asking them to define their terms can turn the tables.

At other times, the person may not be sure about what you are asking, and by questioning them on a few words, you can help clarify the problem.

Define, yourself, the point of the question

Another way to gain control of the situation is to define the question in your own answer. How so?

- Why was your meeting with company X so bad?

- If by bad you mean that nothing good came out of it, well, I don't agree with you. We didn't agree on the subject of the meeting, but we have established a good relationship and they are open to future projects."

Dealing with questions inappropriate

Often, the questions are objective but inappropriate So you must answer something in a direct and restrictive way.

Of course, you don't have to be rude and cut the person off; often, the question was not asked out of spite, or was asked by someone you can't challenge, so instead of saying, "that's none of your business," we have some suggestions.

Answer only one aspect of the question: this will make the person understand that you don't want to talk about the rest, or if not, it will make the person pay attention to another subject.

Often, even, the person will ask something inappropriate within a larger question just to make you feel awkward. In this situation, when you circumvent the answer, you show confidence.

Even when the strategy doesn't work completely and you have to go back to the awkward question, at least you have gained more time to work out an answer.

Change the focus of the question

When there is a part of the question that you don't want to answer, change the focus. Discuss other aspects of the question! Here is an example:

- Have you heard anything about my promotion? Are they considering putting me in Marcos' place? I really think I show confidence.

- Sure. Everyone is impressed with your confidence and how prepared you always seem.

In this way, you change the focus to something positive and are able to gain time in the conversation.

Discuss the question

Often people seem to be looking for a very specific answer when, in fact, they just want to see their question discussed. In these cases there is no correct answer, they just want to see your opinion and what you have to say on a certain subject.

Here is an example:

- Are you not happy with our courtship?

- What makes you think I am unhappy?

In other situations, you can argue the question to impress the interlocutor or those around you.

If, for example, you are in a business meeting and the customer asks you:

- Why should we do business with you when the competition is cheaper?

- Price is certainly an important factor to consider. But quality is also crucial, we can deliver a better product in less time.

This technique is known as: "bridging".

Create a tunnel

Unlike the bridge technique, where you dodge the question, in the tunnel technique, you stop beating around the bush and get to the point, encouraging conversation. However, it should only be used when you are fully confident of the answer.

For example:

- Do you have a plan of how you are going to execute this project?

- Yes, we have, and the most important step is to secure the investment. As you can see from this graph, we have already managed to raise half the money we need.

The key to success in this response is to appear confident and not hesitant.

Remember: when people ask questions, they are not just looking for answers, they want to know how you react and handle the pressure.

Understand the situation

The art of improvisation is to understand what is the best answer for each moment. Often, being direct and simplistic is best. In other cases, you can answer in a more elaborate way and deflect the focus of the question.

Your reaction will depend on who asked you the question, when it was asked, and what situation you are in.

In any case, knowing how to take the time to answer the tricky questions and being able to formulate your answer calmly will make you sleep better at night and not worry about everything you wish you had said.

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