How to Respond When You’re Put on the Spot in a Meeting (Part 6 of Practical phrases and scripts for non-native English speaker working in Tech)

This HBR article is full of practical gems on what to do to survive being put on the spot in a meeting. One I’d like to highlight today is this part about practicing set responses.

It’s helpful to have certain types of responses prepared. The following phrases and questions can help you when you’re put on the spot:

  • Please say a bit more about what you’re asking“. If you’re not sure what you’ve been asked to comment on, ask for clarity. With more context, you’re likely to come up with an answer that’s more direct and relevant. Don’t employ this as a delay tactic, however. Use this phrase when you’d genuinely like more background before you reply.
  • I do not have that information. I will get it to you by 1:00 PM“. When you don’t know something, don’t make excuses. Be honest but provide a time by when you will have the answer to indicate a sense of urgency on your part.
  • Here is what I’m taking away from this conversation“. Sometimes you’ll be asked where you stand on an issue or decision. Rather than just agreeing, summarize what you’re gaining from the discussion. Letting others know the value you received from a discussion validates the conversation and the contributions of others. It’s also rare, so people appreciate it.
  • I think I’m clear about your idea, and I see it differently. May I tell you?” When you disagree, you should say so, but it’s helpful to introduce your comments in a way that helps the other person hear your view. This set-up phrase indicates your support, takes the notion of “right and wrong” out of conversation, and reduces defensiveness.
  • While I would have preferred a different approach, I’ll fully support this“. Sometimes you’re asked whether you support a decision that’s being discussed. It’s easy to say yes if it’s a direction that you agree with, but you occasionally need to get behind a decision that wasn’t your preference.
  • Did I answer your question?” After you’ve responded, it’s smart to check that you met the asker’s expectations with this is a simple, courteous question. After all, it’s easy to misinterpret someone’s request, ramble if you’re thinking out loud, or not provide a full answer in an effort to be brief.

Do check out the rest of the article (web archiver version helps to circumvent the registration wall) to read more about these sensible tips:

  • Carefully prepare for every meeting
  • Trust yourself
  • Decline if you have nothing to add of value
  • Start slowly
  • Set up your comments
  • When appropriate, give yourself permission to think out loud
  • Practice set responses

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