Avoid These Eight Expressions When Answering Questions

Chances are you field dozens of inquiries in any given day. Whether you're visiting with a client or leading a sales meeting, many people probably look to you for all kinds of answers. Knowing how to respond appropriately to questions is a critical communication skill. However, many leaders sabotage themselves by using meaningless words, according to Judith Humphrey, founder of The Humphrey Group.

Humphrey says that while empty expressions may seem innocent enough, they can undercut your ideas and authority. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share eight common expressions Humphrey recommends eliminating from your vocabulary when answering a question.

1. "Um." Using "um"—or its near kin, "ah"—at the beginning of an answer makes the speaker sound tentative, says Humphrey. As early as the 17th century, "um" was identified as "a sound denoting hesitation." While it can be difficult to avoid using this word, strive to catch yourself once or twice, and eventually you'll give it up.

2. "Well." If you use this word as a placeholder, you're not alone. When Henry Blodget, editor-in-chief of Business Insider, asked Jeff Bezos in a 2014 interview, "Can Amazon make money?" Bezos answered, "Well, yes, and in fact we have in the past." The answer sounds tentative—the hesitation before saying "yes" makes Bezos sound like he's not quite sure. Responding with an emphatic "yes" is stronger. Bezos could then have explained that they'd made money in the past.

3. "Let me think." Humphrey asserts that you shouldn't ask permission to do what you should be doing with your answer. You won't inspire confidence if your boss asks you when a project will be completed, and you reply, "Let me think, ah, it should be ready in a week."

4. "You know." Beginning an answer with "you know" or "as you know" is similarly a poor choice, says Humphrey. If your questioner knew the answer, they wouldn't have asked the question. If a recruiter asks you, "Why are you suited for this position in marketing?" and you reply, "You know, I'm a good fit for this job because of my experience in the field," the "you know" distracts from your key point.

5. "That's a good question." Humphrey has often heard this phrase when working with leaders to develop their Q&A skills. It buys them time to think. However, Humphrey always reminds clients, "You're not there to evaluate the question, you're there to answer it."

6. "That's a tough one." This opener is another example of a phrase that serves to evaluate the question. According to Humphrey, it can also be dangerous, as it suggests that the speaker is struggling to think of an answer. If it's truly a challenging topic that's been raised, you might pause and then say something like, "That's something we give a lot of thought to, and there's no easy answer to it."

7. "I'm asked that a lot." This expression gives a slight jab to the interviewer since it implies that the question is boring, notes Humphrey. Instead you might introduce a touch of humor by saying, "I was wondering when you'd get around to asking me that!"

8. "Look!" You might say, "Look, that's not the reality at all," or "Look, here's the deal." You might feel like this expression makes you sound more authoritative, but it can come across as aggressive.

The next time you're posed a question, think like an actor and pause. When you pause, you demonstrate that you take the question seriously. You also give yourself time to respond appropriately—instead of resorting to one of the common culprits above.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a Toronto-based leadership communications firm. Humphrey also established Equos Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical and business sectors.


filed under February 2020
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