Tough Questions & Unmovable Walls – Using Public Speaking to Move Ahead in Conversations
We have covered persuasion skills, negotiation techniques, and difficult communication scenarios in our articles, but what if you encounter a particularly challenging question or scenario you cannot budge from? Beyond the usual public speaking/communication fears, we may encounter communication scenarios that are just too difficult to overcome or run away from.
Picture a sales negotiation – you are deep in discussion over the price of an item when the other party throws a cornering question: what is your bottom line? Or imagine a salary discussion for those transiting career paths – you are having a pleasant discussion when your prospective employer gives a curveball question: what was your previous drawn pay? These are just some examples of ‘unmovable‘ communication walls that our students have encountered and want to overcome.
Today, let us focus on these scenarios and share a 3-step blueprint on how to respond to these communication settings!
Step #1: Plan Ahead with Precision
We will start with the obvious point – always remember to plan ahead with precision. Instead of winging it, try to forecast the likely ‘unmovable’ segments you may encounter in your communication setting. It is always better to have your answer scaffold ready than to try and buy time on the spot and craft a response without preparation. You would not want to turn your key turning point into an uncertain impromptu session!
That said, though – prior preparation does not entail amassing or memorising a truckload’s worth of information. Your preparation should be precise. More importantly, you should be able to manoeuvre around the content you prepared quickly. Once you have identified the potential ‘unmovable’ questions, pick out broad areas of possible responses to create flexibility in your response.
Step #2: Living on Borrowed Time?
The pressure that comes from the communication scenarios above primarily stems from the time pressure – especially when you are expected to respond well in a time-limited, stressful situation. You are likely to find yourself struggling to prioritise, arrange, and present the answer you have in your mind. In such a high-stakes situation, you may need to buy as much time as possible, even if it is just that few extra seconds!
Here are three tips you can try out to stretch your borrowed time! First, create discussion space by giving a precise answer first before opening it up to a broad topic. For example, in a ‘bottom line’ scenario above, you can present a direct response to the question but continue with a question to throw the ball back (“Our bottom line is flexible currently, depending on how this negotiation proceeds – why is the bottom line important to you?”). Second, add context to your responses, especially if a short, precise answer may not suffice (“This is a complex question – our bottom line is $400,000 but we are open to discussion depending on other options in the package”). Finally, summarise and reiterate key points from the other party to ensure that you are responding accurately.
Step #3: Mastering the Conversation Dance
These communication scenarios may seem daunting, but they are essentially still conversation settings for you to apply the public speaking/communication skills you have learnt. Aim to reframe the communication scenario into a two-way conversation to defuse the stress or tension. Instead of feeling pressured to respond immediately, seek clarifications on your doubts to give the most accurate answer possible.
There are three levels of clarification you can use to change the communication scenario into a fluid conversation dance. First, try definition-based questions by identifying and clarifying key terms that may be unclear (“What do you mean by bottom-line?”). Second, move the discussion deeper by exploring the other party’s initial impressions about your response (“What do you think about our bottom line figures?”). If done right, you may successfully re-direct the ‘stress’ to the other party – the pressure is now on them to respond! Third, show sincerity by asking about and exploring the other side’s perspectives. As per a normal conversation, remember to keep them engaged!
*** Clarify, Re-direct, Empathize ***
Your Communication Strategy is Key
Communication scenarios can come in many forms, but we are likely to need these communication techniques in difficult scenarios. These high-stakes scenarios, while tough, may yield a positive return if managed competently. Instead of panicking or fluffing the golden opportunity, use the 3-step blueprint above to give a strong response!
By The Way…
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