Many have felt the terrifying feeling of being asked a question during a meeting and not having the answer. Nobody likes being put on the spot. Not having a good response when this happens can make people feel unprepared and embarrassed. This can be especially true when facing external clients and customers.
But the truth is, nobody has all the answers all the time, and it is definitely OK to tell those asking questions that you need to “take it back internally.”
So, let’s talk about what this means and take a look at some best practices.
A Commitment to Get an Answer
Telling someone you don’t have an answer to a question at the moment but will “take it back internally” isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. You will still need to follow up with an answer. But, you’ve just bought some time to follow up with the right people (or do some digging yourself) to get that answer.
As stated above, nobody has all the answers all the time. But it also shouldn’t be that you don’t have any answers. Taking it back internally should be used sparingly.
The best way to avoid having to use this strategy too often is by coming to meetings prepared, which means anticipating likely questions and doing homework in advance.
Be Prompt and Be Appropriately Inclusive
Follow up as soon as possible. Often, unanswered questions should be resolved the same day or at least by the next day. Obviously, more complex problems will require more time and thought. In those situations, a status update is always appreciated, even if the final answer isn’t yet known.
Additionally, think about who to provide the update to. If the question is applicable to, or of interest to, more than just the person who asked it, provide a response to a larger group. If it’s only applicable to the person or entity asking the question, a direct individual response is typically most appropriate.
Track and Learn
When possible, keep track of the questions that needed follow-up and couldn’t be answered on the spot. If they or similar questions are likely to recur in similar settings, start including answers to those in premeeting preparation materials.
It’s OK to not have the answer to every question that comes up in a meeting. Don’t panic. Just be prepared to respond that you will “take it back internally.” But do so sparingly, and be prompt when following up.
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