Q & A: What to do When You Don’t Know the Answer

When meeting with a potential client, it is inevitable that questions will come up. But what happens if you don’t know the answer? Or what happens when you’re in a job interview and the interviewer asks a question that you’re not sure how to answer? Don’t let one question be the difference between a new job or the next sale. Don’t panic – here are our tips to handle tough questions:

Listen closely. Really focus on the customer or interviewer and the question. Don’t mentally prepare your answer or speculate where the conversation is headed.

Give yourself time to think. The average speaking rate is approximately 135 words per minute, but the average thinking rate is much faster than that. While you are formulating your answer, gain some thinking time.  Say something like, “great question” or restate the question as the beginning of your answer, “I’m glad you asked about our differentiators. Let me share a few…

Maintain your composure. As you listen, sit up straight and use listening cues such as eye contact and nodding. As you answer, use open body language to show that you’re engaged and confident (even if you’re not).

If you’re not sure, give a brief answer and follow-up. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer to every question you’re asked.  Be honest – offer what you know and promise to get back to the questioner with more information at a later time.  Then, you actually have to follow up later with the promised answer.

What are your tips for handling questions that you haven’t prepared for? Let us know in the comments below.

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One Response to Q & A: What to do When You Don’t Know the Answer

  1. Brian Heese says:

    When this situation occurs in a business meeting or sales call I respond with something like “I don’t know the answer but I will do my best to find out”. As humans we don’t know everything. This response has the benefit of leaving the door open future conversations with client or prospect.

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