How to Give a Great Answer to Any Question

Whether it’s during a job interview or a meeting, you need to always be ready to answer any question. Yet, even the most qualified professionals can blurt out an unprofessional response now and again. Too often, people answer with the timeless “I don’t know,” and inadvertently do more harm than good.

To prevent this mistake from happening, use the techniques that some of the best public speakers around use to think on their feet — even when their minds are spinning for an answer.  First, take a deep breath to stay calm and focused on answering the question at hand. Make sure you’ve heard the entire question and you understand it.  If you’re not sure, ask them to repeat the question, and repeat it back to them to ensure clarity. Then, use the following three steps to come up with an intelligent and professional answer every time:

 

  1. What Experience Do I Have with the Subject?

It’s all too easy for your mind to go blank after being asked a difficult question. However, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your expertise, remembering what experience you do have can make all the difference. Sometimes linking the question back to your own knowledgebase can lead to an intelligent answer and you’re golden.  However, sometimes there’s no way for you to come up with an appropriate response.

If you don’t have the tools needed to come up with a great answer, try saying, “I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that,” and then refer the questioner to another department or person who may be better able to respond to the inquiry. Even when the person asking the question seems irritated that you don’t know the answer, if you are honest about not knowing, it shouldn’t escalate much further.

 

  1. Is a Literal or Non-Literal Response Appropriate?

Even if you have experience with the subject, and should be able to answer the question, it can still be a challenge to know what type of response is best. Sometimes it’s a literal answer to a question such as, “Where do we take these forms when we get them filled out?” And your response is, “To Jan, on the second floor.” However, some questions require non-literal responses, such as the traditional job interview question, “Tell me about the worst boss you ever had.” To answer this question, you must walk a fine line. For a question like this, focus your response on how you learned and improved from the negative situation.

 

  1. Is the Question Too Personal?

Delicate topics often require specific answers, and you may want to avoid speaking too much about personal matters. Answering with the response “Here’s what I can tell you …” can provide the inquirer with a complete answer without providing inappropriate information. Personal questions happen in the workplace more than you think, but that doesn’t mean you need to answer it in detail.

Avoid common pitfalls by responding to questions positively and enthusiastically while keeping your answers brief and focused. Above all, to go back to the first point, don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. It is better to admit the limits of your knowledge than attempt an uninformed answer.

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