Great answers to tough questions can boost your career – and company performance

06 January 2017 -


The latest in our series running up to the Management Book of the Year Awards

By Management Book of the Year shortlisted author Michael Dodd

When you’re asked tough questions in the workplace it can feel as though your answers could lose you your job – and worse.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Giving great answers to tough questions is a learnable skill – as I discovered while working out why some people collapse under tough questioning, and others sail though and capitalise.

You can take advantage of robust questioning to boost your promotion chances, impress clients, prospects and bosses and take your company to new heights.

But you must realise that answering tough questions is more than just about giving accurate information.

Your answers should of course contain exact truths. If they don’t you can look like the slimiest of politicians.

But accurate information alone is usually not enough.

When you play your cards correctly you answer the question accurately AND get across an important positive message.

Here’s some sporting inspiration…

Imagine you’re in charge of four-year-olds about to play their first game of football. Amidst the excitement they could easily lose sight of what they’re meant to do on-field.

Even if they defend perfectly, they won’t actually win unless they get the ball into their opponent’s net.

You need get across an over-riding positive message: “To win you have to score at least one goal.”

This may seem obvious. But when it comes to answering tough questions, many people don’t score any goals – and don’t even try.

Their approach is to go into that job appraisal or phone call with a hesitant prospect thinking: “I hope they ask me the RIGHT questions.”

Alas, job appraisers and your prospect often see their job as being to ask you the WRONG questions.

If you just defend without kicking goals, you’ll come out a loser.

To come out well you need the right mindset to guide things towards winning outcomes for you and others.

Fundamental to this is to realise that when you’re being asked tough questions, there are always positive and helpful things you can say that will benefit others involved.

However dire a situation, in a tough professional conversation there are goals you can score for the benefit of all.

And surprisingly to some, part of scoring those goals involves answering those tough questions head-on.

This necessitates telling exact truths in the best possible way. And it involves getting across a message – effectively scoring that goal – on every question.

You then give an example to bring alive your message - thereby painting a picture in the minds of your questioners so they can vividly “see” precisely what you’re talking about.

Suppose you’re preparing for a job appraisal and you struggle with making good presentation slides because you’ve never been shown how to make them properly.

Your positive message can be that you’re enthusiastic to tackle this problem.

You “illustrate” your message by saying you would like to be sent on a forthcoming course about making fantastic slides.

You’re now ready for that predictable question: “Isn’t your performance suffering through your weakness in creating slides?”

Your positive answer leading to doing the course hits the “What’s-In-It-For-Me?” factor for your appraiser and can lead to a great outcome.

Do this every time you face a tough question and it will enhance your career - and your company will benefit every time.


Michael Dodd is the author of Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work, which is shortlisted in the Commuter’s Read category of the 2017 Management Book of the Year Awards

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