Thinking Fast When You Are Put in A Spot

There is a meeting going on. You are making a presentation. Or maybe you are speaking, making a really good point, all eyes on you. Then someone makes a polite interruption and asks a question. It sounds like a good question but you don’t know what to answer.

Or picture another scenario. You are to make an announcement. An important but somewhat of an uncomfortable one; you never know with these pandemic times. Before you know it, there is a barrage of questions and doubts. You feel flustered.

Scenario number three- an interview. A panel of experts sitting in front you behind a desk, and you are sitting in front of them in a chair, with copies of your resume under the said experts’ intense scrutiny. One of them, the one who looks really experienced and intimidating looks up and asks you something. (Need we say more?)

The kind of scenarios described above demand answers from you. They demand quick decision making. Sometimes, they demand a quick yes or no.

In other words, they demand you to think quickly on your feet. They demand you to not jump up in panic.

So, let us, ahem, jump into some strategies which can help you to think on your feet, when you are put in a tough spot and some fast thinking is needed from you.

Be Prepared:

We all have heard this so often at this point owing to the pandemic that it’s almost tiring. It has become a cliché. But things become cliches for a reason- the motto to be as prepared as possible is a proven advice, which works.

When you do the prep for any situation which you know has the potential to put you in a tough spot, prepare in advance. Anticipate the kind of questions you might have to answer. Anticipate the kind of responses or reactions you might get, and think of plans to combat that in advance.

Even if you might not be able to think of answers straightaway, just keeping these worse case scenarios in mind will keep you mentally prepared, and you won’t feel as flustered as you might if you were unprepared.


To put this very simply, and once again in cliched terms- do not panic.

Like the advice to be prepared, the advice to not panic is overused, and perhaps a little poorly explained.

When you feel a flurry of questions coming at you, listen, and pause. It is sort of natural to feel the urge to either answer everyone, but that only makes us feel more flustered and chalk up incomplete and often incohesive answers.

As psychologist Daniel Kahneman tells in his book ‘Thinking Fast, Slowly’, pausing gives our ‘thinking brain’ time to…think.  Panicking makes us start thinking of responses, leaving us little time to think. Pausing makes us listen and gives us time to think.


A question has been asked and you are not sure how to answer that. You paused, thought a bit, but still can’t seem to think clearly. What to do now? Rephrase the question, and ask them if this is what they meant. A rephrasing from your side means you add extra information, a sort of a counter question, which makes them pause and think. Rephrasing also helps you buy some time to think.

Moreover, when you rephrase, chances are they would tell you what they mean, and might add in some extra information from their side as well, which will help you to think of a response.

Admit If You Don’t Know:

Trying to think of a response for a question you were not prepared for is one thing; trying to make sense of a question you didn’t understand is one thing. However, trying to answer a question when you just don’t anything about its subject is unwise.

When you are put in a spot where you genuinely can’t think of a response, and any amount of extra time or information will not be helpful, just admit that you don’t know how to answer that question.

Just as panicking and trying to answer everyone will lead to more panic, answering when you don’t know the answer will lead you into deeper circles of confusion.

Professional life, and the decorum associated with it comes with its set of discomforts and situations where you will need to think on your feet quickly. Whether it is an interview, a presentation, a make or break deal, evading would not be an option. But what we can do, from what we saw in the points above is to direct our energy into looking for solutions, rather than trying to focus on the unpleasantness of the situation.