Tough questions at work: Score a goal with every answer

Jul 14, 2016 | Learning

Distant Hills Guest House B&B Spean Bridge


By Now Training Associate, Michael Dodd – author of “Great Answers To Tough Questions At Work” (published by Capstone)

Giving great answers to those tough questions you get in the workplace can boost your chances of promotion, make a better impression on your clients, prospects, bosses and colleagues and help take your company to a new level.

A critical thing to understand in order to boost your response to challenging questions is that answering them is more than just about giving accurate information.

Your answers should of course contain accurate information, but usually that’s not enough.

What it’s really about when you play your cards correctly is to both answer the question accurately AND get across an important positive message as well.

In sessions on giving great answers that we run for Now Training clients, we ask participants to write down in advance the toughest questions they typically face.

The questions always look pretty scary. But we ensure those who write the questions feel better about dealing with by boosting the content, structure and delivery style of their answers.

This ensures they leave feeling more confident and more competent. Some of them leave looking forward to the next time the question is asked – because they’re ready for it!

Here’s some inspiration from the sporting world…


Imagine you suddenly find yourself in charge of a bunch of four-year-olds about to play their first game of football.

The youngsters are revved up, have short attention spans and are under pressure to perform from their pushy parents. Amidst the excitement they could easily lose sight of what they’re really meant to do on the field.

Reduced to its simplest, your initial pre-match job as manager is to get across one clear over-riding message to the team members: “If you’re going to win the game you have to score at least one goal – and more if you can.”

Sure the young footballers will need to keep the ball out of their own goalmouth. But even if they defend perfectly, they won’t actually win the game unless they get the ball into their opponent’s net at least once, and ideally more.

This may seem obvious. But in a broadly similar situation, when it comes to answering tough questions in the workplace, many people don’t score any goals – and don’t even try to.

Their approach is to go into that job appraisal, phone call with a hesitant prospect or potentially angry shareholder meeting and just hope that somehow they will scrape through to get an acceptable outcome without totally shredding their reputation.


A typical comment by someone on this losing pathway makes beforehand is: “I hope they ask me the right questions.”

Or, more negatively, their plea is: “I hope they don’t ask me THAT question.”

Alas, when it comes to situations such as these, the performance appraiser, your prospect or the shareholders will often see it as their job to ask you the WRONG questions.

They will often fire questions that are designed to score a goal against you.

If you just defend without actually kicking any goals you will come out a loser, as will the four-year-old footballers.

Worse still, if you don’t seek to kick goals then you’re letting down the very people you ought to be convincing about your case – as well as yourself.

To come out as a winner you need to have the right winning mindset before the challenging conversation starts. This will help guide you towards the winning outcomes for you and others in the conversation.

Fundamental to this winning mindset is to realize that when you’re being asked tough questions, there are always positive and helpful things you can say that will benefit others involved.

However dire a situation is – even, tragically, if it involves injuries or deaths that could be seen as your organisation’s fault – in a tough professional conversation there are still goals you can and need to score and objectives you can achieve for the benefit of all those touched by what’s happened.

And surprisingly to some, part of the art of scoring those goals includes actually answering those tough questions head-on.

At the very least, your responses should involve explaining why you can’t answer a particular question – and then adding something extra that’s useful and to the point.

It always requires telling exact truths and nothing other than the truth.

But it necessitates telling these exact truths in the best possible way. And it involves getting across a message – effectively scoring that goal – at every opportunity.

This means you should be seeking to score a goal every time a question comes to you.

It means answering the question or saying why you can’t, and then ALWAYS getting across a key message that you want to convey.

Ideally you then move on and give an example to bring alive your message. When you do this effectively you paint a picture in the mind of your questioner so they can vividly “see” precisely what you are talking about.

By following this pattern you are turning the challenge of a tough question into a chance to convey a positive message and then illustrate it in your questioner’s mind.

So suppose you are preparing for a job appraisal and you struggle with something in particular at work. Let’s say it’s making good presentation slides on your computer. This is because you have just picked things up along the way and have never been formally shown how to make them properly.

So you adopt as your positive message that you are enthusiastic to tackle this problem for the good of your own career and to benefit the company.

And you plan to “illustrate” your message by saying you would like to go on a forthcoming course about how to make great presentation slides.

So with this positive message and illustration you are ready for a predictable tough question like:

 “Do you agree that your performance is being held back by your weakness in creating good presentation slides?”

So you should answer the question honestly, with something like: “There is some truth in that.” But this answer alone, while commendably honest, doesn’t kick a goal. To do that you need to move on to get across your positive message.

You therefore add something like: “And I’m really keen to overcome this so I can be more productive, quicker in my work and make a great impression on our potential clients.”

From this point you can explain why a course would be very helpful, by saying something like: “At times I struggle with making presentation slides because I’ve never been shown how to make them step by step, and I’ve only picked up what I do know on the run.”

Then you move on to your example: “I’ve been thinking about this and the best thing to do would be for me to do a training session on making great presentation slides. This would make a big difference to me being able to impressively set out work to present to our clients and prospects and to have it ready more quickly.”

So, by presenting your own pre-thought out plan, you have answered the tough question honestly, conveyed the message about your intent to do better and given a positive example of what can be done to solve the problem highlighted by the question.

In this way you have turned the “crisis” of a tough question into an opportunity for you to do better and for the company to benefit as a result.

Your answer hasn’t focused just on your own interests, but the overlapping “What’s In It For Me?” factor for you, your appraiser and your company as well.

In this way you have demonstrated that you are being an inspirational communicator who can kick goals for yourself and your company.

If you can demonstrate this every time you face a tough question in the workforce it will enhance your prospects – and your company will benefit every time.

You can get a 20% discount on “Great Answers To Tough Questions At Work” as a reader of our blog.
Click here and use the promotional code “DODD” to get your discount at the online checkout.

If you would like more information about how to give great answers to tough professional questions, please contact us here or call 01920 460 211. 

George Meyer

George Meyer is a seasoned expert in the field of organisational learning and development. With over a decade of experience in the industry, he has become a respected voice on training and professional growth. George currently holds a pivotal role at Now Training, where he applies his extensive knowledge to help organisations enhance their learning strategies through Managed Learning Services. His insights are backed by a rich background in designing and implementing effective training programs across various sectors. Known for his innovative approaches and commitment to excellence, George's articles offer practical advice and thought-provoking perspectives on how businesses can leverage training to achieve their strategic objectives. In his spare time, George is an avid reader and enjoys exploring the latest trends in educational technology and methodology.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

4 Ways You Can Grow Your Creativity

4 Ways You Can Grow Your Creativity

4 Ways You Can Grow Your Creativity as Office-Based Staff In today's fast-paced office environment, creativity isn't just for the 'creatives'. It's a crucial skill for anyone, including those in more traditional office roles. Here's how you can cultivate and grow your...

Programme Puzzles

Programme Puzzles

Our friends at Merrill Consultants know all about programme planning, thanks to their dedicated team and vast experience. In this article, they have shared their top tips for getting programmes working well. Recently we have received three separate enquiries which can...

How to prepare for interviews

How to prepare for interviews

For many candidates, going to an interview can feel quite challenging, or perhaps even daunting. In this video, our friend Jeremy from Lazarus Consulting covers 6 tips that will help you prepare for interviews, (or if you are a coach, to help you help your clients to...

Connect with
Now Training Managed Learning Services

Stay updated on the latest services, news, and updates from Now Training.