I know you’ve been there; we all have. In a situation where you’ve been put on the spot in front of a group at work to provide input or answer a question you may not have expected. And of course most people’s worst nightmare is to look like an idiot in front of the group so the internal panic commences. Your brain takes about 10 seconds to try comprehending what the actual F is going on and try to come up with quick solutions.
Sometimes your brain fails you and other times it makes you proud. Either way, being put on the spot and not being prepared will definitely trigger your fight or flight reaction.
Even though many of us are working remotely and meeting through MS Teams or Zoom, (and many times off camera), there’s still this super uncomfortable fear of looking stupid. Of course, looking stupid in person is probably worse, but it’s still no fun no virtually, nonetheless.
I’ve been put on the spot several times in corporate America and I’ve learned how to navigate the discomfort like a pro. Below are 3 Ways you can handle being put on the spot.
1. Don’t freeze when you’re put on the spot, become a master at improvising.
Whatever you do, don’t freeze. It’s normal to enter into a state of shock but don’t let it linger. It’s important to become a master at improvising so you don’t seem too pressed and caught like a deer in the headlights. This comes with practice and coming up with auto-responses for situations like this.
Honesty is usually the best policy depending on your audience. If it’s a less formal meeting, then it’s probably best to keep it real.
It’s probably okay to make a joke and own the fact that you were not prepared with a response; even still answer as best you can or quickly defer to someone else. I know this still puts you in an awkward position but it’s better than freezing and not saying anything.
Now if you’re on a call with executives, you still want to speak up but this time you may not want to be too transparent. Don’t flat out lie but definitely don’t say you’re not prepared or that you’re caught off guard.
Bring up one of your more polished auto-responses. These auto-responses will vary based on the type of role and business you’re a part of. Tailor them in a way that makes sense in a variety of situations.
2. Recall what you already know or simply ask for or give yourself a moment to respond.
If you’re a newbie to your company and role this might be difficult, and you may just want to ask for a moment to respond. This is totally normal and doesn’t count against you.
As long as you’re being responsive and actively working towards an answer, all is well. After 30-45 seconds have passed and you still don’t have a response, defer to someone else and let your team know that you will follow up later.
If you’ve been at your company for a while, it’s highly likely that you can respond, you may just need a few moments to locate a document or review a metric. While you’re looking, recall what you already know.
It’s also a good idea to reiterate the question to make sure you understood (this also buys some time). Reach back into the archives of your brain and shoot off some key words and phrases that apply to the situation as you’re frantically behind the scenes prepping to answer.
If you’re on camera obviously hiding the fact you’re caught off guard won’t be as easy, but there’s no harm in flipping the camera off quickly to get yourself together.
Now if you’re in the office, girl… I honestly don’t know what to tell you. It’s probably best to just take the L and keep it moving.
An honest and confident “I don’t know but I’ll get back to you” is better than choking up or not saying anything at all. Refer to number 1 on this list and improvise as best you can.
3. If applicable, follow up after the fact to understand why this happened or to own your part in being caught off guard.
No matter how you respond in being put on the spot, it’s a good idea to follow up after the fact to understand what just happened lol. If you’re not sensitive and you don’t really care, then don’t do anything, carry on with your duties as you normally would. No need to fix something that isn’t broken.
But if you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably really pressed about what happened and need a solution.
The reason why you want to follow up is to identify why you were singled out. Maybe someone has a misunderstanding of your role and responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to address it with whoever you need to, because it’s you that has to deal with the side-eyes and looking incompetent.
It’s not at all a confrontational conversation, basically you just want to provide clarity or possibly gain insight on what is expected of you.
Or maybe you missed an important meeting and didn’t catch the key details that you were supposed to report on. There are so many reasons why this could have happened.
And if you’re an overthinking super sensitive person like me, you want to get to the bottom of this. Because messing up at work is just not a good feeling.
If this was by your own doing, you still want to follow up with the appropriate parties to make it clear that it wasn’t intentional and an oversight. Also come up with a plan to minimize this happening again.
It’s really easy to overlook certain things especially with routine meetings that may seem mundane. Prepare ahead of time for every work engagement, meeting, chit chat or whatever else just to make sure you’re not missing any important dates or key information.