There is no shortage of situations in which our words fail us. A surprise visit from relatives. An on-the-spot request for information at a staff meeting. A sudden delivery of bad news. Sometimes you just can’t find the words to respond in an appropriate fashion that serves you well. The next time you find yourself tongue-tied, give one of the ideas below a try.

Name It and Claim It

When your annoying neighbor shows up unannounced, try stepping back and simply narrating what’s in front of you. One easy response is to say “I didn’t expect you this afternoon – what a surprise. What can I do for you?” Put the ball back in their court so that you are on the listening end. If they pursue an undesirable path, you can let them know you have plans for the day  – even if your plans are doing laundry and binge watching Netflix. Did someone just deliver devastating news? Be honest about it, “This is really devastating news. I don’t know what to say.” You can then ask for more time or express gratitude that they are sharing this information with you. (See below.)

Buy Time

One of the most generous things you can do for yourself is to create the space you need to think through the bombshell that just dropped. Whether you need a hot minute or three days to process the next steps, take the time you need. The language around this trick is crazy easy. Simply saying, “I hadn’t thought about that before. I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.” If you can provide a specific timeline for your follow up, even better! If admitting you hadn’t thought of something doesn’t serve your purposes, try “That’s an interesting idea,” or “Tell me a little more,” and then move on to your commitment to think it through and respond within a specific timeframe.

Express Appreciation

If you spend any time at all watching press conference performances, you’ll hear “I’m so glad you brought that up,” or “Thank you for bringing that up.” You can do the same. If your boss calls you out in a big meeting with a question that you can’t answer, a confident, “I’m glad you brought that up,” followed by a course of action can be really useful. Your course of action may be talking to a co-worker, researching specifics, weighing out the financial implications, or any task that demonstrates your active participation in finding the answer.

At some point, we’re all tongue tied. Keep today’s tips in mind as you move through the world. They can help you recover more quickly and gracefully from life’s curveballs.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson


Cover of Amber Nelson's book, "Talk to Me"

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