Thinking on my feet - that’s the very opposite of what I’m doing sitting here writing this. Reacting on the spur of the moment with an intelligent comment versus being able to sit back to ponder quietly, cup of tea in hand. Some people seem to be so good at dealing with that curve ball question. They just come up with the answer… and some. They exude confidence and everybody believes them and thinks that they’re wonderful and sharp-minded and really 'on top of their stuff'. The gods of the corporate world.
The rest of us have to resort to something between mumbling an apologetic “don’t know… sorry” and chattering nervously like monkeys, saying the first thing that pops into our minds, until we run out of words or the listener runs out of patience.
I have three thoughts to offer on all this. But to begin with, I’m going to take ‘know your stuff’ out of the equation because I don’t want to incite you to prepare, prepare, prepare. Why not? Because, guess what, they’ll always ask you about the stuff that you haven’t touched. So we’ll start from the point that you have an intelligent grasp of your area of expertise.
So, here we go. How to think on your feet…
Thought number 1. We can all do it…when we’re feeling OK.
Thought number 2. It’s all about choice.
Thought number 3. Pretence is the enemy.
So, how does this all play out in reality? (well, at least an example)
Option A (horrible)
Someone asks you a question… you think you’re supposed to know but you blank or just don’t know the answer but you feel embarrassed and think that you should and you think that you have no option but to give a semi-intelligent answer or they’ll think you’re not very good at your job… so you pretend all is well whilst you fumble for a third rate or invented, best guess, this-will-get-them-off-my-back answer. Phew, got out of that one.
Option B (aah that’s better)
Someone asks you a question… you think you’re supposed to know but you blank or just don’t know the answer but you feel embarrassed and think that you should and you think that you have no option but to give a semi-intelligent answer AND THEN YOU REALISE THAT YOU ARE FEELING UNDER PRESSURE and that you once read a blog that said… that we can’t think straight when we’re upset. We can only react.
So you stop.
And you tell the room that you’ve blanked. That cuts the bad feelings in half. Then you say how you feel about blanking which takes care of the rest.
Aargh! – I’ve blanked! How embarrassing.
Then you remember that you have a choice about what and when. That you are allowed to exercise your professional judgement about what and how much to say and when.
Come back to me in a minute – I’ll be able to give you something more sensible / a rough idea / the actual number.
The instant that you have taken control in this way you begin to feel … happy, in-charge and confident and low and behold the number, the fact, the idea comes back into your head because in the absence of negative feelings, and the distraction that they generate, you have your brain back, and with it, your memory, your creativity and the full power of your intellect.Pretending to be OK, when you really weren’t, just extends the problem and makes BS the best option.
Once you start to make a habit of this routine, you will find that you no longer need it as often because you will know, deep down, that you have a choice of what to do and that you don’t need to pretend to feel OK when you don’t.