Thinking On Your Feet: 7 Ways to Get the Vital Seconds You Need

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‘By the Way, I Need You to Reduce Your Prices From 8% From Next Week – Is That Ok?’ Quick – Do the ‘Thinking on Your feet’ Thing. You Can’t!

We’ve all been in a situation where the curveball got bowled. The question that floored us. The sentence that we had not prepared for. We ummed, we erred and berated ourselves afterwards for not thinking on your feet and not preparing better. But the truth is that we could not have prepared for every eventuality, so my advice – don’t try. There will always be the possibility of the question that we haven’t thought about how we would answer it, so don’t.

Instead, put your energy into having ways to managing the situation better. Ways that can be used for any situation. Whether you are negotiating, selling, or just being asked a tough question in a meeting that you don’t know how to answer. You cannot train yourself to ‘think quicker’ because that won’t work, but you can train yourself to have a few tactics that can help you to think on your feet more effectively.

Let’s take a look at those tactics and please consider as you read how you could adopt 1-2 that will help you to buy those vital seconds that will help you to reply better. We are only looking for a few seconds because that’s all you need to formulate a better reply. A better reply than the ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ response that you would have given. And only a few seconds will make all the difference.

Remember Brian Mills from the Film ‘Taken’?

If you have seen the Film ‘Taken’ with Liam Neeson, you may recall this scene:

‘Kim. Stay focused baby. This is key. You will have five, maybe ten seconds. Very important seconds. Leave the phone on the floor. You must concentrate. Shout out everything you see about them. Hair colour, eye colour, tall, short, scars. Anything you see. You understand?’.

Vital seconds. You’ll not be kidnapped, granted, but a few vital seconds can still make all the difference!

Links to YouTube video with the Scene from the film Taken where Kim is kidnapped
Vital seconds are important for the outcome


7 Ways of Thinking on Your Feet

#1: ‘Please Tell Me More’

Remember, you are only wanting to buy a few seconds and yet this strategy will buy you many more. People are mostly happy to talk about themselves, their ideas, and their thoughts, so asking them to tell you more will always be met with a fabulous reception of, ‘Of course. It means…’ Giving you time to formulate your reply as you hear for the second time what they want from you.

#2: ‘So, You are Asking…’

A lovely phrase that just uses 4 words that you can keep in your head ready for those tough questions, and then all you do is add to those 4 words something about what they have said. For example, ‘So, what you are asking is for a quicker delivery and a reduce price?’. Now, their reply will be one of confirmation. Something like, ‘Yes, I am’. But still, you have bought the time to speak your phrase and for them to respond. Probably 10 seconds of thinking time was achieved.

#3: <Silence>

Silence is a valuable tool and especially when negotiating. Be careful because silence is a valuable tool but you have to also choose the body language that accompanies it. Imagine asking a challenging question of someone and they respond with silence coupled with crossing their legs, their arms and looking away. Your immediate reply is to match their conflict stance with a similar one, and now you have a conflict on your hands.

An alternative is to complement the silence with a thoughtful style of body language. Maybe scratching your chin. This will invite the other person to start speaking because no one likes silence and if you inviting someone, through your body language, to speak, they usually will.

#4: ‘I Do Not Know’

Theo Paphitis, one of the Dragons on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, posed a challenging question to a pitcher. The pitcher ummed, erred, and in the end, Theo said, ‘It’s ok not to know. Just say that you don’t know and come back to us.’ He’s right. You can’t know everything. You should know the answers to the key questions – those you must – and only you will know what those are, and for others you won’t. Sometimes you won’t have the answer to the question, so it is ok, to say, ‘I don’t know. Is it ok if I come back to you?’.

Confused boy giving I dont know gesture on white background
You won’t know the answer all the time


#5: <Deep Breath>

Easy to say, hard to remember to do. Though it just works. You’ve heard the question and it’s a tough one. Take a deep breath and then reply. That’s it.

#6: ‘I’d Like to Better Understand…’

You’ve understood at least some of the questions/the point they are making, and to seek clarity is to listen. So, ask a clarifying question. For example, ‘Our company is making redundancies in the marketing department and I need to notify you that you might be one of those people’. Your reply, ‘I’d like to better understand whether all departments are affected, are they?’. Identify a part of the question/statement, and look to understand that better.

#7: ‘Please Can You Repeat the Question…’

It’s probably the most used and understood of the stalling tactics we can use when we need to think on our feet. A very effective tactic. By asking the person to repeat the question/point, you can buy vital seconds whilst you formulate a reply. For example, ‘Please can you repeat the question because I am not sure I heard it completely’. Adding a because to your sentence adds a level of influence because of the ‘Power of Because‘.

In Summary of Thinking on Your Feet

Don’t challenge yourself to do ‘thinking on your feet’. You can’t think quicker, so don’t try. And you can’t prepare for every eventuality, so don’t. Instead, choose one to two of the above tactics and have these ready to be used. Remember, that by the very nature of you needing to think on your feet the question will be unexpected, so be ready for it, accept it, and reply with a tactic you have chosen. As the villain in The Matrix said, ‘Cause and Effect’. They create the cause – a curveball question, and the effect is that you use a tactic.

For useful content on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, check out our ultimate guide on HBDI.

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