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Handle tough questions

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Whether you’re negotiating in private or interacting with an audience, you need to respond forthrightly to even the trickiest questions. But that doesn’t mean you must give full, revealing answers. Use these techniques:

Follow the “first sentence” rule. Always acknowledge the question in the first sentence of your response. Don’t open on a tangent or babble about an unrelated topic. You’ll look evasive.

Clarify the question. If you need to buy time for the best response, confirm the gist of what you’re being asked. Say, “Just to make sure I understand the question ...” And you can always ask them to repeat it.

Give a menu of choices. You’ll impress questioners if you let them direct the scope of your answer. How? Say, “I can answer that in many different ways” and give some examples. You might suggest a short-term answer, a long-term answer or a perspective, say, by industry or size of company.

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