Do you know this feeling when someone asks you a question and you are completely at a loss for words? Your mind goes blank and you have absolutely nothing to say. Does it sound familiar? It definitely does to me.
Luckily, there is nothing abnormal about it. We are definitely not freaks of nature by reacting like this. Brain freeze is a natural reaction from our body to any situation when we are paralysed with fear (so called fight or flight response). Knowing how to deal with such situations and how to think better on your feet is a skill that anyone can master.
Since I face this challenge from time to time too, I did a little research into the art of answering eloquently during spur-of-the-moment interactions.
Here are the most useful tips from my research:
Remember that you don’t need to hurry to answer the question that you have just been asked. When you feel that your heart rate increased or your voice is starting to tremble, whenever it is possible, leave the room for a moment and take a few deep breaths. Focus on your breath entering your body and imagine that it is bringing you more calmness and confidence. It is a simple exercise but it does work well in situations when you feel you are getting more and more stressed and your mind goes completely blank.
Look at the person you are talking to and be really attentive to details. Pay attention to not only what they are saying but also to their body language and the tone of their voice. In 1970s Albert Mehrabian, professor of psychology, did research in the importance of non-verbal communication and his studies show that only 7% of what we communicate are words, 38% is the tone of our voice and our intonation. The rest (55% of our communication) is our body language.
So when someone ask you a question, look at them carefully and notice what feelings they are communicating. Are they upset with you or just curious? Try and interpret what is hiding behind their question, and then make a decision how you want to reply.
Win yourself more time
If you need to gather your thoughts, you can use a few strategies to win yourself more time.
Ask for clarification - if you are not sure how to answer a given question, ask the questioner to be more specific.
Repeat the question - it will give you a few more seconds to think and interpret what the question means
Think ahead about questions you might be asked
Before you go to a meeting, whether a business one or a family meeting, think about questions that you might hear and plan what you would say. It will make it easier not to be at a complete loss for words.
No one likes unexpected questions but with a little bit of effort and practice, you can be better prepared to stay calm in such situations. As with the development of all skills, the more practice you get, the more confident you will become.