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English Phrases To Manage Difficult Questions

Everyone has experienced a difficult question that they couldn't answer at the moment during a presentation or meeting and everyone will certainly experience that common situation again at some point.

The key to dealing with difficult questions is to remain confident and respond with a memorized phrase that the person who asked the question will accept. This will help you save face and can even help you build rapport with your counterpart or audience.

This lesson includes some language, strategies, and phrases in English for difficult questions that you cannot answer at the moment.

a man thinking about what to say

Language

The words below can be used with the noun "question":

  • have a question: "I have a question about your recommendation"

  • formulate a question: "It's important to formulate a question well so that it's clear to everyone"

  • ask (someone) a question: "May I ask a question?" (or "may I ask you a question?")

  • rephrase a question: "Perhaps my question wasn't clear. I'll rephrase the question."

  • avoid a question: "He avoided questions because he wasn't prepared for them."

  • acknowledge a question: "Thank you for acknowledging my question"

  • invite questions: "At the end of my presentation I'll invite questions"

  • respond to a question: "Try to make eye contact when you respond to someone's question"

  • answer a question: "She acknowledged my questions but she didn't really answer it."

Strategies

Below are a list of tips to use in order to handle difficult questions:

  1. Ask the person to repeat the question to give yourself time to think

  2. Paraphrase the question to the person who asked it to ensure that you understood it correctly

  3. Tell the person that it’s a difficult question to answer

  4. Be honest and admit that you don’t know the exact answer

  5. Tell them that you don't want to give them the wrong information

  6. Offer to find out the answer and follow up with them later

  7. Tell the person that you’ll talk to them privately after the meeting or presentation (this can avoid embarrassment in front of the group as you can tell the person that you don't know the answer privately)

Phrases

Stalling for Time by Commenting on the Question

  • That’s a good/tricky question

  • Thank you for your question

  • Sorry could you repeat that question?  (I don’t think everyone heard).

  • I’m glad that you raised that point.

Paraphrasing the Question to Understand it Fully

  • So, it sounds like your question is… Is that right?

  • I’m not entirely sure if I understand the question.  Are you asking….?

  • If I understand you correctly, you mean…?

Mentioning Something You Already Said

  • As I said earlier,…

  • As my colleague mentioned,…

  • Well, going back to what I said before,…

  • I think I covered that earlier when I said...

Admitting That You Don’t Know

  • Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question at this time.

  • I’m afraid that information isn’t available to us at this point.

  • That's quite a complicated question, so I'll need to think about it.

  • That’s not exactly my area of expertise, so I’ll have to find out and get back to you

  • To be honest, I’m not exactly sure and I don’t want to give you the wrong information.  Let me look into it for you.

Delaying an Answer

  • Do you mind if I address that later?

  • Actually, I’ll be talking about that point later in my presentation.

  • Well, I don’t want to get into too much detail right now.

  • I’d be happy to discuss that with you in more detail after the talk



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