When To Act On A Question Immediately
If a question is timely and on task and you feel it should be addressed, answer it immediately - but briefly - and then follow up by stating you will take more questions at the end of the meeting if you have time.
Support your statement that you are moving on with body language. Look at your notes or turn to face a whiteboard, etc. By breaking eye contact momentarily, you show that you are moving on. If you look out into the audience (especially with raised eyebrows) you may be sending a signal you are leaving an opening for more questions.
If the audience is negative or hostile, do acknowledge their concerns but only indirectly. Take a moment to explain you understand and share their concerns but if you get too far off topic nothing will be accomplished. Suggest that people write down their questions for later, or arrange to meet with you privately where you can discuss their concerns in more detail.
Answering a single question comes in handy because it:
- Allows a meeting holder to address something they may not have thought about;
- It sends a message that you are listening to your audience;
- By taking only one question, you also send the message that you are still in control of the meeting but care about what attendees are thinking.
How To Tactfully Defer A Question
If the question being asked will be addressed later in the meeting, state, "That's a good question and one we will be addressing shortly."
If the question being asked is off-topic and will not be addressed in the meeting, give a set of specific instructions for resolution. If you simply refuse to answer a question or pass judgment, "that's not the purpose of this meeting," you may end up sending the wrong message to your employees: management does not care.
Another way to defer questions that will not be talked about in the meeting is to ask the person to meet with you (or another appropriate member of management) privately to discuss their concerns in more detail. You might even suggest (if appropriate) that the question is important enough to warrant consideration of being addressed in a separate meeting at a future time.
Deferring a question is helpful because:
- In a casual work environment employees may feel too free to speak their minds and can take control of a meeting;
- Most angry or disgruntled employees want to be heard more than anything else. Giving them a sounding board in the right time and setting can help avoid small problems from becoming bigger problems; and
- Employees need and respond to good leadership. If management maintains control in a fair and balanced way, it sends the message to employees that management is listening, but must set appropriate boundaries.