Communication with Transparency and Integrity



Skillbuilder 3: Thinking on Your Feet

If only we could all say the right thing, 100% of the time! Many people feel behind the 8-ball in the middle of a lively conversation, even if it’s very positive, and wish they had more time to think, process, and prepare.


When preparing for difficult conversations, it’s valuable to build in opportunities to press pause and reflect, both for yourself and for your team. That might mean giving them three silent minutes to write down their thoughts before starting to discuss, having a common signal for “I need to think for a minute before we move on,” or having a “parking lot” to hold questions to return to later after more thought.


Still, you can’t plan your way out of having to respond off-the-cuff to tough questions. Here are some strategies for giving yourself time and space to formulate the right response, stay true to your message, and communicate genuinely.


  1. Take a deep breath and relax your body.

  2. Prepare for tough questions. What are the questions you are most dreading hearing during your conversation? You should definitely have an answer prepared for those, if only to help you feel more confident going into the conversation.

  3. Get a better question. Rather than launching into a long response to a too-big question, help your team explain what information they need.

    1. “Can you ask that question again? I want to make sure I got all of it.”

    2. “That’s a pretty big question! Can you break it down a little bit? What specifically are you wondering about?”

    3. “When you say _____, what do you mean by that? I want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.”

  4. Narrow your options. It can be overwhelming to try to answer a complicated question: there’s just so much you could share that it’s hard to give a concise answer. But there are some ways to cut through the noise of too much information:

    1. Answer part of the question. Don’t obfuscate, but you can start by answering the part of the question you feel best prepared to speak to.

    2. Pick one point and one piece of supporting evidence to start with. Your team can always ask more clarifying questions after.

  5. Be transparent. Your team probably knows that their questions are challenging to answer! It won’t undercut your authority to say so. You can tell them:

    1. “This question is tough but important, so I want to take a second to think about my answer.”

    2. “I honestly don’t know the answer to that. Let me get back to you at our next meeting.”


Scripts and Phrases

​While you don't want to sound overly-scripted, it can be helpful to have some scripts and phrases in the back of your mind, especially when you're anxious or stressed about the conversation. Here are some ideas!


How to de-escalate a conflict:

  • “I didn't realize this was going on, so tell me more.”

  • “I want to listen to your point of view, but I can't do it when you are yelling at me.”

  • “I understand your point of view, but I see it differently.”

  • “I will incorporate your thoughts going forward.”

  • “Since we can't seem to agree, can we continue talking about it another day so we can think of more solutions?”

  • “Let's see what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

  • "What can I do to improve communications so this does not happen again?"

  • “What can I do next time to make this less difficult for you?”


How to demonstrate your values in your words:

  • Partnership:

    • “I really want to work on this with you.”

    • “I bet we can figure this out together.”

  • Empathy:

    • “I can feel your enthusiasm as you talk.”

    • “I can hear your concern.”

  • Acknowledgement:

    • “You clearly put a lot of work into this.”

    • “You invested in this, and it shows.”

  • Respect:

    • “I’ve always appreciated your creativity.”

    • “There’s no doubt you know a lot about this.”

  • Legitimation:

    • “This would be hard for anyone.”

    • “Who wouldn’t be worried about something like this?”

  • Support:

    • “I’d like to help you with this.”

    • “I want to see you succeed.”


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