Ask For Clarification To Buy Time When Asked On-The-Spot Questions

Ask For Clarification To Buy Time When Asked On-The-Spot Questions
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Most people sound flustered or uninformed when asked an unexpected question. To avoid giving the wrong impression or putting your foot in your mouth, buy some time by asking for clarification.

Photo by Martin Pettitt

Having just a couple of extra seconds to think can mean the difference between an eloquent answer and a fumbling one. Often, people don’t like to give you that time, however. Hesitation is seen as its own answer and rushing to speak doesn’t usually go well.

As The Art of Manliness explains, asking for clarification can give you a moment to think while also letting the asker get more to the heart of what they really want to know:

If a question is vague and/or all over the place, respond with a question of your own that seeks to clarify and specify what the seeker is trying to get at. Which product is he referring to? What timeframe does she have in mind? Which aspect of something are they thinking about?

Of course, even how you ask this should be handled with a bit of care (asking someone to clarify the definition of “is” could be problematic), but generally speaking, the more you open the dialogue and are willing to answer questions, the more leeway the person you’re talking to is likely to give you to think of a good answer.

Thinking On Your Feet: How to Answer Difficult Questions [The Art of Manliness]


  • always good if you ask to clarify the question proving you know more about the subject then the questioner. I recall when Barry Jones when asked about elephants by Bob Dyer enquired if he meant the Indian or African elephant (sorry I can’t recall the actual question)

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