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Stumped by a Question? “E” Words Can Help!

Have you even been asked a question and you did not know the answer? Whether this happens to you in a presentation, meeting, phone conference, or just in casual conversation, the feeling of not being able to respond immediately can be frustrating. Well, don’t despair! Help has arrived!

Using a strategy similar to triggers and handles, in response to a question where you are at a loss for words, you have two options: you can let someone else supply clues that trigger your response; or, you can create temporary ways to handle the question.


If stumped, you could choose to investigate the issue by soliciting more information from the person in order to help trigger your response. To do this, simply reply to the question with another question, using one of the three “E” words: EXPLAIN, ELABORATE, EXAMPLE.

You might say: “Would you explain that?” or, “Can you elaborate?”, or, “Could you give me an example?” Any of these phrases will expand the dialogue with the person and force him or her to clarify the essence of the question, which, in turn, will more narrow the range of possible answers. As a person provides more details, the chances of enlightenment rise, and one of those clues might trigger your memory to be able to address the question in a sufficient manner.

The “E” word strategy may not provide the trigger that you need, even after the person clarifies the question with more details. Howver, from an audience perpsective, the brief interactive dialogue will give the appearance that you genuinely sought to answer the question by seeking additional information.



If you decide to skip the trigger option, you will likley have to stall for time to handle the moment, until you decide what to do next. You might simply pause, to think a for a second, and then reply. Or, you might fill the void with a brief phrase, such as “That is a good question.” and then give your response. But, if you are truly stumped, you might handle the situation with an offer, such as: “Let me get back to you on that.”

Or, you might deflect the question back to the entire group with “Would anyone else like to address that question?” or “Let’s see if the group has an opinion on that.” Keep in mind that using deflection may be seen as a weakness on your part, especially if no one in the group offers to take the question and you have then opt for the “I’ll get back to you” response.

The good news is that you still are left with the option of using one of the above-mentioned handles, such as “I will get back to you on that.”

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