When someone tells you something or asks you a question and you don’t know what to say, the key is to stay calm and act confident.
It can be useful to remind yourself that it’s totally normal not to know what to say in certain situations; it does not mean that there is something wrong with you.
If you do not know what to say, respond with “Thank you for sharing that with me” or “That sounds challenging.” Expressing gratitude or compassion can allow an awkward moment to pass and usually helps create space for more meaningful conversations.
Even if you’re unsure of what the right response should be, simply taking a moment to think can make it easier to decide how you want to respond.
What to Say When You’re Stuck for Words
We’ve all been there—you’re in the middle of a conversation, and you don’t know what to say. You become tongue-tied, embarrassed, or just blank out completely.
In situations like these, it can be difficult to come up with something meaningful or useful to say, but there are a few strategies that can help you get back on track and keep the conversation going.
One of the best ways to respond when you don’t know what to say is simply to listen carefully. Listening intently shows that you value their opinion, and it can give you some time to think about how best to respond.
Active listening involves asking questions, making eye contact, summarizing their points of view, and repeating back key points they made—all of which will show that you are engaged in the conversation.
Redirect with a Question
If you really don’t know what to say next, try redirecting the conversation by asking a question. This helps move the conversation away from yourself and towards the other person so that they can share more information about themselves or answer your question in depth.
Asking open-ended questions (questions that require more than a one-word answer) is particularly effective in this situation because they encourage further discussion while also giving you some time to think of something else meaningful to say once they finish speaking.
Show Your Empathy and Support
Oftentimes when we don’t know what to say it’s because we feel overwhelmed with emotion or have difficulty expressing our feelings. Instead of trying too hard for an eloquent response at such times, it may be better just to show your support without words.
A simple hug or pat on the shoulder can go a long way in showing your empathy and understanding without saying anything at all.
Alternatively, other ways of demonstrating your support without having to find exactly the right words for any situation are telling someone:
“I hear what you’re saying.”
“I understand how difficult this must be for you.”
Be Prepared for Business Situations
The best way to prepare is to do your research on the company and industry beforehand. This will give you a better understanding of the kinds of questions they might ask, as well as provide you with a base of knowledge that will help put you in a better position to answer any unfamiliar questions they may throw your way.
Additionally, it will make it easier for you to pivot towards topics that are more familiar if needed.
Give Yourself Time to Think
If you’re unsure of how to answer a question, never feel rushed into giving an immediate response. Don’t be afraid to take some time (but not too much!) before responding.
A few seconds of silence can go a long way! Taking this extra time will give your brain the opportunity to process the information and determine the best course of action. Make sure that while taking this time, you still remain engaged with the interviewer so they know you haven’t been thrown off by their question.
Sometimes it is necessary to admit when we don’t have all the answers. If this happens during an interview, don’t be afraid to tell them that! Acknowledging that something is unfamiliar does not mean that you won’t be able to figure out how it works–it simply shows the interviewer how well-prepared and honest you are about your expertise level on certain topics.
In situations like these, try asking related questions yourself or even expanding on what other team members may have done in similar situations in order to show them your problem-solving skills and resourcefulness instead of simply saying “I don’t know”.
Different Scenario Examples
When you don’t know what to say, it can be helpful to focus on listening and reflecting back on what the other person is saying. By listening closely, you will gain valuable insight into the other person’s interests, thoughts, and feelings.
Plus, by using reflective listening techniques such as summarizing and clarifying, you show that you are actively engaged in the conversation and interested in learning more about the other person.
If your mind goes blank during a conversation, try asking open-ended questions instead of relying solely on closed-ended questions which require a simple yes or no answer. Open-ended questions encourage dialogue and help keep conversations flowing naturally.
Some examples include:
“How did that experience impact your life?”
“What do you think is the most important thing we should consider when making this decision?”
While these questions may not come naturally at first, with practice they can become second nature.
In addition to asking open-ended questions, inviting engagement is another great way to make sure that conversations flow easily even when you don’t know what to say. To do this, offer up tidbits from your life or ask for the other person’s opinion on something related to their life experiences.
This encourages them to share more about themselves and helps keep the conversation going in a productive direction. In addition, offering compliments or expressing gratitude also encourages others to engage more deeply with you—and helps ensure that everyone feels heard and appreciated in any conversational setting!
If you’re at a loss for words when someone tells you something or asks you a question, the best course of action is to appear as if you’re completely comfortable with the situation.
It can help to remind yourself that not knowing what to say in a given situation is very normal and in no way reflects poorly on you.
Expressions of gratitude or compassion can help ease tensions and pave the way for more meaningful dialogues.
“Thank you for sharing that with me.”
“That seems incredibly tough.”
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.