You don’t always have to have the answer

Do you think before you speak?

When you are in a conversation do you think about your answer before giving it and are you truly listening to what the other person is saying?

Are you?

Or are you forming your answer whilst they’re still talking?

If so, you haven’t thought before you speak. Because you’re missing out on the next thing they are saying as your attention is on your own thoughts, not what they are communicating to you. You haven’t received all the information they are sharing with you because you’re too busy creating your response whilst they are still talking probably either to prove them wrong or show them how clever you are.

You are not alone. Most people will be forming their response before they have heard all of what the other person is going to say. Now knowing this, what do
you think the challenge is for you if you are forming your answer before you
have all the facts?

Think about this scenario to see how you would likely respond:

You’re sitting at work and you hear a colleague discussing a customer issue with their manager.
You know how to handle this kind of thing because you’ve done it effectively so many times before and everyone knows you are the “go to person” for this type of issue.
You can hear their discussion and you think to yourself “that’s not the best way to handle it”. . . .

Do you:

  • Immediately call out to let them know you’ve dealt with this before and give them your solution because you don’t want them to make the same mistakes you or others have made in the past?
  • Stand up, wander over, hover around them to hear better so you can interject at the appropriate time
  • Let it go because you know, that they know, that you’ve dealt with this sort
  • of thing before and if they want your advice they’ll ask for it?
    (you never know, the manager may be using this example as a learning opportunity and that’s why they haven’t asked you).

This scenario is a common workplace situation. You know what I mean; that person who always has the answer and wants everyone to know it? They’re always trying to prove to the world how smart they are?

Effective communication is about listening to the other person, understanding where they are coming from, allowing them to fully verse what it is they are saying, (their next sentence might actually be what you’re thinking in your head) and when they’ve fully finished giving you the information, you can then respond.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, everyone is in a rush and we jump in too quickly with an answer that may not be fully formed, because you don’t have all the information yet. If you actually slowed down and listened to all the facts; your response may have been different.

Another common theme coming through is about appreciation and feeling valued. Think about this, when someone is sharing information with you that you already know, do you:

  • Cut them off mid-sentence and say “I already know this”
  • Let them finish and then say, “That’s great, but I knew that this morning”
  • Say “thank you, that’s good information”

If you are able to ‘appreciate’ that the other person was relaying information to you in good faith and say “thank you” then you’re building them up, building your relationship and creating a solid foundation for appreciation and feeling valued.

On the other hand, if you cut them off or let them know that you already know this, then you’re breaking their spirit, making them feel that it’s not worth sharing information with you and creating discord in your relationship.

A small “thank you” goes such a long way for both people involved. The giving and receiving of information is critical to success in any endeavour in life.

In your next conversation, before you respond, think about this:

  1. Wait for them to fully finish what they are saying before you respond
  2. Consider your response – is what you’re going to say “value adding” or “tearing down”, is it going to build up the person and situation or bring them down?
  3. Would a simple “thank you for sharing”, “thank you for letting me know”, or just a simple “thank you” be the best response?

Now consider if it was your boss, your kid’s teacher, a person whom you perceive has more presence or authority than you – would you respond the same way as you do to your colleagues, friends, family?

What’s different – what would make you treat those closest to you any different from others outside that inner circle?
What would make you ‘snappy’ at those close to you whereas you’re calm and in control with your response to others?

Do you “lash out” when you’re angry or under stress?
How’s that working for you?
What would you like to be different in these situations?
How can you adjust your approach when angry or stressed?

When we are angry and lash out our brains are not functioning fully and we are “reacting” to a stimulus or a situation, we are not in control of effectively “responding” and what we say or do in those situations we may regret later. (Can you recall a time when that’s happened?)

In the past this “angry persona” may have worked for you because people “jump to attention”, but in the long run it wears thin and people don’t want to engage with you because they see you as erratic or angry and they will probably shutdown or avoid you in the future.

Responding with outbursts can also get you a reputation that you are volatile and this may affect your career.

How to stay calm when you feel out of control

When you’re feeling out of control, angry, frustrated or stressed . . . pause before you speak. The best way to do this is to take a BIG deep breath in before you say anything! While you’re taking that breath consider how you want to respond to get the result you’re looking for.

You can’t control what others do, but you can control your response to it. Start by taking that deep breath and consider your response. Is it going to help or hinder what you want to achieve? Yelling at someone may get a task done today, but at what future cost?

Take a breath, control your emotional response or remove yourself from the situation if you have to, so that you can come back with a considered response. You can say something like “I just need a moment to consider what we’re going to do” and leave the room so you can clear your head.

Or, better still, ask others what they think is a good course of action to fix the problem? Get a whiteboard, a piece of paper, anything and start writing down thoughts and build on each other’s ideas.

A great leader knows that they don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, a great leader, empowers others around them to share ideas and inspire others to co-create great outcomes.

We’ve all worked with, or have people in our lives that annoy or frustrate us because they “don’t listen”, they are “unfair”, “unappreciative” etc. How do you interact with them these days? What are your thoughts about them?

If you are one of those people, you can change this perception by slowing down, fully listening and saying “thank you”.

Consider how you contribute to conversations – are you always giving or do you allow yourself to sit back and receive information? We need to do both, but too often we’re more concerned with the ‘giving’ of information to prove our value or prove ourselves right.

In your next conversation, listen, really listen until the other person has finished – especially if you disagree with them.

Take a breath, consider the full information they’ve shared with you and then respond. It’s even better if you can actually use some of their words back to them in your response – that demonstrates the power of your listening skills and makes them feel heard. Then if you want to express a different point of view, they have the respect that you’ve heard what they’ve said and are more likely to listen to your alternate option.

When you’re mad, sad, angry, frustrated, take a breath, suppress your natural inclination to react and be responsive instead. Sometimes your response is saying nothing at all and allowing the conversation around you to unfold without your input. Once you appreciate the importance of saying nothing or a simple “thank you” you’ll be amazed at how people change their response to you.

If you want to know more about effective communication reach out and we can chat further.

About the author

Helen Luxford is a Leadership Coach, Hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner.  Helen’s passion is helping  stressed professionals turn overwhelm and uncertainty into calm and confidence in 6 weeks or less.

Helen is an experienced Executive and HR Leader.  Helen combines her corporate experience with her qualifications and skills in coaching, Neurolinguistic Programming and Hypnotherapy to provide tailored programs for her clients. 


Helen is the co-author of Amazon best-selling book, Heart Centred Leadership.


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