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Posts on Jan 1970

Thinking on Your Feet

thinknyourfeet-202x234If a bat and ball costs £1.10 and the bat costs a pound more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

If the answer that jumps to mind is ten pence you are not alone, but you are wrong! Have another look (the answer is at the end of this post). The problem is that we are prone to place too much faith in our intuition, which gives us quick answers but not always the right answers. At times, we need to slow down. In support of this, an investigation into how people answer the bat and ball question revealed that the number of correct answers increases if the question is made more difficult to read, by using an obscure font and a paler script, because this forces people to slow down.

The problem of responding too quickly is particularly acute when we are asked to think on our feet and provide answers on the spot. How many times have you said something that on later reflection turned out to be half-baked, lame, or downright wrong? The secret of course is to stay poised while you compose your thoughts and prepare your response, but how do you do this? Here are some skills and tactics that might help when you are under pressure to respond.

  1. Listen and Look. Look directly at the questioner and observe their body language as well as what is being spoken. Try to interpret what is being suggested by the question or request. Is this an attack, a legitimate request for more information, or a test? Why is this person asking this and what is the intention?
  1. Ask for the question to be repeated. If you’re feeling particularly under pressure, ask for the question to be repeated. This gives you a bit more time to think about your response. This won’t make you look unsure, it will make you look concerned that you give an appropriate response. It also gives the questioner an opportunity to rephrase and ask a question that is more on point. It also gives you an opportunity to assess the intentions of the questioner. If it is more specific or better worded, chances are the person really wants to learn more. If the repeated question is more aggressive than the first one, then you know the person is more interested in making you uncomfortable than anything else. If that’s the case, stall them.
  1. Stall. One way to stall is to repeat the question yourself. This gives you time to think and clarify exactly what is being asked. It also allows you to rephrase if necessary and put a positive spin on the request. Or you can try narrowing the focus. Ask a question of your own to clarify, but also to bring the question down to a manageable scope. Alternatively, ask for clarification. This should force the questioner to be more specific. Finally, ask for clarity over definitions. Ask to have jargon and ideas clarified to ensure you are talking about the same thing.
  1. Don’t be afraid of silence. Silence can be uncomfortable. However, if you use it sparingly, it communicates that you are in control of your thoughts and confident in your ability to answer expertly. When you rush to answer you also typically rush your words. Pausing to collect your thoughts tells your brain to slow everything down.
  1. Stick to the Point. Under pressure it’s easy to give too much or too little information. If you give too short an answer, you risk letting the conversation slip into interrogation mode and the follow up questions will feel like a hail storm. When your reply is too long, you risk losing people’s interest, or giving away things that are better left unsaid. Rather than trying to tie together all the ideas that are running through your head, pick one main point and one supporting fact, this will give you focus. If you don’t know the answer, say so. There is (usually) nothing wrong with not knowing something, as long as you get back to the person with an answer as soon as possible
  1. Prepare Some “What Ifs”. With a bit of forethought, it’s often possible to predict the types of questions you might be asked, how you will respond, and what additional information you might need to hand. Spend some time thinking up the most difficult questions that people might ask, and preparing and rehearsing good answers to them.
    1. Summarize and Stop. Wrap up your response with a quick summary. After that, resist adding more information. Again, don’t be afraid of the silence that may follow and make the mistake of filling the silence with more information. This is the time when other people are absorbing the information you have given. If you persist with more information, you may end up causing confusion and undoing the great work you’ve already done in delivering your response.

Hope this helps and by the way, the answer to the bat and ball question is 5p. If the ball cost 10p then the total cost would be £1.20.

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