6 Simple Ways to Answer Tough Questions

Joe’s a bright guy and his idea was solid. His data seemed right intuitively, but we had a few questions.

My peer started with a softball. Joe responded with a stutter, swing, and a miss. He made the cardinal sin of answering tough questions– he made stuff up.

He wasn’t exactly sure of the answer, and he took a chance that we were dumber than he was on the topic. Never underestimate your audience. Nothing fires up execs more than a big load of crap.

No more softballs, now the tough fast balls were flying. I sensed he knew the answers, but was flustered and taken off guard. He couldn’t make the right data synch with the first baloney. I ended the meeting early out of a mixed sentiment of disappointment, anger, and pity. It took a while to recover.  In fact for Joe, that story’s not over.

If you’re taking risks and proposing game-changing ideas, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you change the world enough to attract the media, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you’re leading through turbulent times, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you’re doing work that matters, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

How will you respond?

6 Simple Ways to Answer Tough Questions

    1. Tell The Truth.  Never, ever make stuff up. Forget the spin. If you don’t know, say so, and offer to get right back to them.  If you can’t disclose everything say so, or explain that part of the strategy is still evolving.
    2. Anticipate and Prepare. The very best way to answer tough questions is to make them less tough. Anticipate the questions you will be asked and put them into categories. Do your homework and get as smart as you can on the topics you will most likely be asked. Dry run your presentation with a few friendlies and ask for their toughest questions. Pre-empt a few of these tough questions by saying, “Now, if I were you I would be wondering…” Instant credibility win.
    3. Pause. The silence that feels awkward to you goes more quickly for them. Your audience will just sense that you’re listening well. Better to have a moment of pause with a good answer, than a quick moment of stupidity.
    4. Repeat the Question. Sometimes the questions are tough because they’re long, convoluted or unclear. Try to summarize the question back in the simplest terms. It will show you are listening, you’ve got them, and give you a moment to prepare.
    5. Don’t Repeat Yourself. Sometimes tough questioners are setting a trap. Just say, “I believe I answered that before” with a quick summary response.
    6. Keep Your Cool. Some tough questions are really needling questions to get you riled up. Take the high road and keep your cool. Your best answer will never be given from the Amygdala brain. Breathe.

Telling the truth and answering the tough questions will go a long way in building your reputation as a confident, humble and trusted leader.

Web Bonus Post

I had some fun this week answering one of my most frequently asked questions:  How do I convince my boss I’m ready for a promotion? as part of a guest post carnival sponsored by WebHosting Buzz

7 Steps to Convince Your Boss To Promote You

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Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

12 Comments

  1. I’ll ask them a question to help me understand their true motivation for asking the question. This helps me respond appropriately and gets the questioner to go deeper about their inquiry. Sometimes they come up an entirely new question.

  2. Karin, you make a good point that some tough questions are simply poorly formulated.

    In podcasts and elsewhere, I come across a lot of interviews. I have observed that some people ask a question that actually has multiple parts. The best response?

    “Well, you have asked multiple questions there. Let me answer the first question of X.”

    That’s a way to show not only active listening but a way to bring clarity.

    • Bruce, That’s an excellent add. I find that often in my speaking Q and A as well. Best to break it down.

  3. The key for me in dealing with tough questions especially from my clients is being overly prepared. I find that arming myself with different perspectives and anticipating how they may perceive a situation is best.

    I also love your idea of always telling the truth. The web of “not quite true” reasoning can get us in trouble and compromise our leadership.

    Thanks Karin! Enjoyed the post!

    • Terri,
      So agree. Anticipating the questions and being prepared for many possible questions is so important.

  4. Great suggestons, Karin.

    I have always found that by anticipating and preparing, I can be mentally tough when I am confronted with hard questions.

    Visualizing is an effective technique for preparing yourself for how you will respond while in a tight spot.

    • LaRae, Great add. Visualizing is such an excellent way to prepare. It never seems to turn out as bad as my imagination can concoct 😉

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