How to Respond When Faced With a Question You Can't Answer

BY Jessica Helinski
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At some point in your sales career, someone will ask you a question that you just can't answer. It may be about a topic that you don't know much about. Or, it could even be about your own product or service. What will you do? Thanks to some insight from Fast Company contributor Anett Grant, you won’t have to panic. Her tips can help in those situations when you want to maintain credibility but are stumped for an answer.

One suggestion is to project your answer into the future. When asked about an unfamiliar topic, you’ll likely stumble trying to come up with a thoughtful response. Or, even worse, you might start rambling and end up saying something that doesn’t really reflect how you feel. “In these situations, the key is to think in the moment and then immediately look forward from there, not backward,” Grant writes. Many people try to think of a past experience to use as an example and end up floundering. “Instead of getting tied up recounting past experiences – which may not even be a good fit for the question – you can answer more hypothetically and strike a positive, forward-​looking note at the same time,” she explains.

Another tip is to show gratitude for the question. If you don’t have a response ready, rather than freeze up, acknowledge your appreciation of the question. Any question that provokes a new way of thinking is valuable. Then, be honest about your inability to answer and explain that you will need to look into it. Grant even offers an example of what you can say: “I’m going to explore that because I think there are a lot of valuable insights we could gain by examining this area further.” This statement credits the other person for asking a question that will drive you to educate yourself. And, it shows your commitment to getting him or her an answer.

These are just two examples from Grant’s article, and hopefully, they can give you some guidance for those moments when you just don’t have an answer.