A prospect asks, How many other customers do you have? A new recruit asks, What do our competitors do better than us? A board member asks, Why haven’t you met your targets?

When we’re hit with questions we’d rather avoid most of us flannel, bluff or maybe just flounder. Or there’s the politician’s answer that gets us out of the hot seat without saying anything.

If you hear one answer in your head but something else coming out of your mouth you’re giving “published” answers. Something you hope will play to the audience and buy you some credit without giving away the truth.

Doesn’t everyone do it? We’ve all heard leaders get out of jail with bland answers and half-truths. Listen between the lines though and those answers aren’t very far from, “don’t you worry about things like that, everything’s going to be just fine.”

Answers like these might get you out of a hole, but are they wise?

Think about it. When someone rubs flannel in your face, don’t you tune out, respect them less, and move along to the next booth? If that’s how you react, how about the people listening to you?

The best way to deal with difficult questions is to tell the truth. Let’s look at those first three questions again:

  • “You already know we’re a start-up. We’ve been working with five pilot sites for the past four months and we’re expecting the first one of those to sign-up next month.”
  • “Great question. Our competitors are stronger at A, B and C. We’re closing the gap, although not as fast as we’d like, but the market sees our strengths at X, Y and Z .”
  • “We lost our distribution partner when we missed the shipping deadline. We’ve signed a new partner and here’s how we’re now managing our development schedules …”

I’m not suggesting you open your kimono on every question — there are always decisions not taken and secrets to be kept — but those situations are rare. Preparing for difficult questions can mean the difference between a great answer and flimflam, but when you’re hit with a sky-ball be as open as you can and never stray from honesty.

Openness shows confidence and when it comes to the truth, would you rather they heard it from you or from someone else?

Difficult questions are, well, difficult. But as leaders, these are the questions we’re judged by. They may be issues of fact or of feeling, but at heart, every question is a matter of trust.

Telling it like it is shows leadership. Business is a business based on trust, and if you want people to trust you, be confident, show leadership, and always tell the truth.