Leaders must be prepared for the tough questions

Even the most experienced leader has been known to fall flat on his or her face when confronted with a tough question.

Panic sets in, defensiveness rears its ugly head, or facts stubbornly refuse to be recalled as we grope for the best immediate response.

Being able to think on your feet is an ability that gets attention and commands respect. Marshaling thoughts on the spot requires confidence, a thorough knowledge of your topic and a cool head.

Joan Detz, a corporate speech writer featured in the October 1986 issue of "Success!" magazine, points out that most tricky questions can be handled smoothly if you can spot some basic patterns.

Says Detz: "Whether you are responding to probing reporters, irate customers, disgruntled employees, or curious competitors, there's usually a way to handle even the most difficult questions with dignity and authority."

Here are some of the most common verbal curve balls and strategies for getting them back:

·        The hypothetical question: "If you can't deliver the job by the deadline, then what?" Don't get sucked into the "what if" syndrome. Instead, take a positive approach. Say, "I'm very confident we'll meet the deadline."

·        The yes or no question: "Will you be hiring more people to work on this account - yes or no?" Don't back yourself into a corner with a hasty reply. Use a couple of sentences to explain your position and provide an accurate answer. "We're examining our staffing requirements and if we need to hire more, we will." (Keep it short so you don't appear evasive.)

·        The what-the-other-guy-thinks question: Watch politicians and lawyers for fancy footwork around this one. Avoid trying to predict what anyone will say or do. Simply respond with, "You'll have to ask them."

·        The ranking question: "Would you name the two most important concerns in your department?" Be careful here. It sounds easy, but you could leave yourself open if you respond too casually.

If you respond, "We're most concerned with productivity and sales," someone else could jump all over you with their pet concern. "You mean you're not concerned with employee morale?"

Instead, avoid traps by starting with, "Some of our most important concerns are...," or, "Let me tell you about a few of our biggest problems..."

·        The non-question question: Sales people are used to fielding this one, "I've enjoyed hearing about your product, but I really don't think I need one right now."

Convert the statement into a question, "You must wonder, 'What can this product offer me that I don't already have?'" Then tell them the benefits.

·        The off-the-record question: Don't be fooled into thinking, "It's only a small staff meeting," or "This is an out-of-town group so I can talk more freely." Answer every question as if it might be tomorrow's headline.

·        The A or B question: "What's more important to you, the budget or meeting our quota?" You can't win with this one. You don't have to try, either; simply say, "They're both important."

·        The why question: "Most distributors are the same. Why should I buy from you?" As soon as you hear "why," think of the situation from the other person's perspective. What would he like? What would make his job easier? "Our customers do business with me because I handle any service concerns personally and within 24 hours."

·        The false promise question: "Now that your people have messed up the project, what are you going to do about correcting it?" Correct a false premise immediately or you'll give the impression that you agree with it. Interrupt if you must and say, "I'm sorry, Jim, but that just isn't the case ..."

·        The open question: "So, tell me about your last job."

Pause to collect your key points. You have a great opportunity to sell yourself, your idea or your product. Keep it short and to the point. Better still, have a short mini-speech ready to go so you sound articulate and succinct.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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