We’ve all been caught off guard with tough questions or problems that require an immediate solution. If you’re like many of the people I talk to,  you lack the business communication skills required to offer solutions on the fly, particularly in a delicate situation.

Even though people often expect an immediate response, you may not know enough about the problem to respond intelligently. Perhaps you can’t think fast enough, or maybe you really just need more time to investigate the challenge.

You need a simple, solutions-oriented process that helps you organize your thoughts when you’re caught off guard. The following four steps will enable you to respond to problems in a focused, concise, and solutions-oriented manner:

Four Steps to Improve Your Business Communication Skills


Step One:

After you have uncovered the issues and are ready to respond, make sure the first sentence out of your mouth is a listener benefit statement. That means you should reiterate what the person wants to accomplish. Keep your tone and phrasing as positive as possible. For example: “I understand that you want to lead the new marketing initiative.”

Step Two:

Restate what you hear the problem or challenge to be. This enables you to validate their pain. Continuing our example, your next sentence would be: “John secured the lead role instead of you, and you don’t understand why.”

Step Three:

Respond to the person by providing solutions, not excuses. In this case, instead of blaming corporate bureaucracy or seniority issues, offer a solution, such as: “In order for you to get assigned a lead role, we need to work on your communication and delegation skills.”

Step Four:

State specific action steps outlining who is going to do what and when. For example: “Let’s see what training options we can arrange to help you develop these skills. Get a list of applicable training programs by tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. We’ll review them together to decide which ones would benefit you the most.”

Now you’ve diffused the situation, reduced the other person’s frustration, and offered a real solution in less than five minutes. You did all this without stammering, without babbling, and without adding undo stress to yourself. Essentially, you turned a situation that could have resulted in a lengthy and drawn-out conversation into one that lasted only a few moments, left the other person feeling good and provided the answers he or she wanted.

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