Asked a Difficult Question? One Way to Navigate Away

Do you struggle with knowing what to say when asked a difficult question? One way to navigate away from it is by using a specific ‘attention-directing’ technique.

Whether it’s being hit with a tricky question during a meeting or presentation, or caught in a 1:1 situation and don’t want your answer to be “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”: here’s a redirecting technique that can get you out of trouble:

Stick figure looking stressed in black and white, with 3 red question marks around its head.
Asked a difficult question? One way to navigate away

Zoom in or zoom out.

1. Zoom in: this is where you redirect by saying something like:

“That’s taking a broad focus, which isn’t within our scope today.”
“Unfortunately we don’t have time to cover that aspect in the required depth today [the depth it deserves].

Let’s narrow your question down to what I/we can confidently speak to…”

2. Zoom out: redirect with, for example:

“This is one aspect of the situation: let’s take the big picture though, and…”

“I believe we’re better served today by going broader and…”

This is unlikely to work with people above you in the hierarchy! It is, however, pretty user-friendly for many other situations.

P.S. Of course there’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, and it can show that you’re confident in other ways. Much better to say that with the usual “I’ll get back to you on that one”, than waffle and get yourself stuck.

Just remember to make a note to yourself to follow up as you’ve promised. In the heat of the moment, it’s so easy for it to completely disappear off your radar.

I trust that’s been a helpful tip. If you’re interested in more, I run a half-day workshop on this exact type of tip, with lots of chance to be video-taped and practise the ideas you’re given. I’ll be doing an online version of this workshop too.

Best wishes with your presentations or public speaking!

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