Miscommunication is a common occurrence in business, education, and even relationships. There’s nothing worse than spending all week working on an assignment or project only to find that you have it all wrong and something completely different was required. That’s only one of the reasons you need to learn how to think on your feet.

We all know that business processes don’t always go according to plan. Often, you must make quick decisions, with little or no preparation, and these decisions don’t always turn out the way we want them to.

When you’re put on the spot, you do the best you can with the information you have, but there are ways to increase the likelihood of success when you’ve had to think on your feet.

15 Tips for Thinking on Your Feet

think on your feet
  • 1
    Stop. Take a deep breath. Take some time to formulate your response. It will show you are thinking carefully so you can deliver the best solution or answer.
  • 2
    Request some more time. You don’t want to take a week to answer a simple question, but there’s no reason why you can’t say “Can you give me 10 minutes to get back to you? I want to make sure I have all the facts before I answer.”
  • 3
    Be prepared. Have some “stock” answers ready for when someone fires a question at you that you weren’t expecting. In other words, expect the unexpected.
  • 4
    Tell a story. This one is an extension of be prepared. Have a few anecdotes you can pull off the top of your head when you need to stall for time. Make sure you have a wide variety of stories to choose from.
  • 5
    Repeat the question or comment. This can give you more time to come up with an appropriate response and will also clear up any misunderstandings about what is required of you.
  • 6
    Stand tall. This is great for your own self-confidence but also in showing confidence to others. Once you’ve made a confident statement, whether you feel confident or not, it’s easier to make another one. Before you know it, you’ll have found the answer they were expecting from you.
  • 7
    Ask a question. For example, “Before I answer that…” You may find that the other person answers their own question for you. If not, you’ve still bought yourself some time.
  • 8
    Don’t take it as a personal attack. This can be difficult to do, but often, we react to comments defensively when we don’t need to. A small trick with this one is to physically take a step backwards and remove yourself slightly. 
  • 9
    Dive right in. Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to just say what you think, right there on the spot. It may very well lead to an interesting conversation or a way for you to find your way back to a topic that you are familiar with. 
  • 10
    Own it. Has the workplace become so precious that we can’t say, “I don’t have the answer to that, but I’m going to find out and get back to you.” Nobody expects you to have all the answers to every business problem
  • 11
    Make a joke of it. Under certain circumstances, it’s okay to laugh at yourself. It makes you more approachable. It also models the behavior you would like to see from your team members
  • 12
    File it away for next time. This may be the first time you’ve had to think on your feet, but it probably won’t be the last. Learn from the experience, take what worked, and use it the next time.
  • 13
    Be fully present. Often, the reason we find ourselves put on the spot is because we were allowing our mind to wander. Make sure you’re paying attention in meetings and that you’re clear on what your role in the meeting is.
  • 14
    Trust your instincts. If you think you know what’s being expected of you but you’re not 100% sure, listen to what your gut is telling you. Will it be the end of the world if you’re wrong?
  • 15
    Create a group discussion. Is there someone else whose opinion you can ask before you answer? It will take the heat off you for a moment and may lead to innovative solutions.

Thinking on Your Feet Is a Skill You Can Learn

Feet

Whatever business you’re in, there’s a high chance that you will occasionally be put in a position when you need to think on your feet. Businesses that don’t continually strive to move ahead will be left behind, and you don’t want to be left behind with them. Keep up to date with new innovations, listen to what the people around you are talking about, and always ask questions.

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