It will happen.  As you prospect, sell, interview or get interviewed, at some point someone will ask you a question that you do not have an ready answer for.

My first advice it to expect it.  So don’t panic.  Please.  Because when we panic we often do things that aren’t really helpful.  We may stall, repeat the question to buy time, mumble, or decide that the person who asked the question expects that we have an answer and we don’t want to disappoint them.  And what do we do then?  We pretend to answer the question we don’t know the answer to.  And that is an unforced error, but a serious one, as we may have eliminated whatever opportunity was before us.

But if you expect that you will be faced with questions that you don’t have answers for, and you have prepared for that event, there are things you can do and say that will be helpful.

First, take a deep breath and make sure you have listened and perhaps clarified the complete question.  “Did you mean year to date or for the most recent quarter?” You may find that your first impression was wrong and that the questioner was asking about something you do know about.  Whew.

Second, whatever you choose to say must be honest.  Inventing answers or just talking to take up empty space or out of nervousness will be transparent, and you will give yourself away as a phony.  It is better to say:  “I don’t know.” or “I don’t have current information on that situation.” or even: “I would be happy to do some investigation and get back to you.”  But if you make that offer, you must follow through.

Third, you may have partial information or have an response that answers the topic broadly, but doesn’t provide the detailed answer that was sought.  Give it, but explain that your answer is more general than the questioner’s inquiry.  By doing that you are being both honest and respecting the other person as you acknowledge the misalignment between what they asked and your response.

There are questions about our company, our products and services, and our processes that we should be able to answer.  But, no one expects you to be an expert or fully informed on every aspect of your field or on their requirements.  Practice giving a good response to the occasional curve ball and you will find that your client or prospect will continue to want to discuss and explore the opportunity you are pursuing.



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