Have you ever been at work when your coworker started a conversation that happened to catch you off guard, and you didn’t know what to say? Imagine being in your workspace, and all of a sudden the person appears and immediately starts speaking. Your colleague starts talking about a project or a work task that wasn’t mentioned before. You have a ton of things that you’re working on, but just before you get to say it your coworker walks away.

This was frustrating when it happened to me!

This was especially true when I wasn’t prepared to discuss the topic/project, and I had absolutely no idea what to say on such short notice. I started thinking of those short convos as the dreaded drive by conversations. This is because the drive by conversations were usually over before I could respond. My coworker would speak; I would literally blink; and like an early days snap chat post: my coworker was gone. If this has happened to you, I can help. I’ve discovered how to take charge of the conversation in a way that left me feeling more at ease and less off balance. In this article I’ll share some tips about how to have a conversation that will leave you feeling empowered as you navigate those drive by conversations.

Here’s what’s important to know.

It’s important to know that you’re not alone. People across the planet struggle with knowing exactly how to have effective conversations when an immediate response is required. According to an article, published by Harvard Medical School, stressful situations send a distress signal to your brain and it activates a stress response (“Understanding the Stress Response). This means that it’s completely normal for anxiety to set in when you’re met with a new and challenging situation.

Managing challenging conversations at work can be difficult. Knowing how to have a conversation on the fly may seem even more difficult when you’re tackling multiple priorities. Typically the last thing that you want to do is offend the other person while you’re frantically thinking about what to say.

The worst part is that we can usually think of a million great responses afterward. The goal is to have a good conversation that allows you to continue to have positive interactions with your colleagues. In this article I’ll share what I’ve learned about how to have better conversations when someone catches you off guard.

Tip #1 Expect the unexpected.

If this has happened to you, it’s likely that it’ll happen again.
This is because it’s common to have short, off-the-cuff exchanges at work about
projects/tasks. This means that some of these informal exchanges might include topics
that you may not be prepared to discuss at a moment’s notice. Knowing that it’s
possible for this to occur gives you the advantage. This moves you from the
defense to the offence. Having the advantage gives you time to think things through
and come up with better responses. Using the example responses below will help
your answers to appear natural, unrehearsed, and keep you in the conversation.

Tip #2 Staying on the offence: A few
example responses to help you prepare for Drive by Conversations

Prepare by keeping an arsenal of short responses. It will
give you an opportunity to follow up later no matter what your position is on
the topic.

Here are examples of what you can say when you agree:

  • I’m open to that plan, but I think that we
    should meet to review it.
  • It don’t have a lot of time to discuss it right
    now, but I’m open to learning more about it later.
  • I’m interested in hearing more about that. Let’s
    schedule a meeting.

Here are examples of what you can say when you disagree:

  • I’m not sure that we should move in that
    direction, but let’s schedule time to discuss it.
  • Let’s pause this discussion until I’ve had more
    time to reflect.
  • I don’t think we’ve had an opportunity to
    explore all options. Let’s do some more research before moving forward.

Here are examples of non-committal responses:

  • Allow me to think about what you’ve shared and
    follow up with you.
  • Can we revisit this conversation later so that
    we can discuss this a bit more?
  • I may need more time to explore this.
  • That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about that.
    Give me some time to think about it and get back to you.

Tip #3 Don’t put too much pressure on

It’s important not to feel pressure to respond right away.
Sometimes we place pressure on ourselves to come up with the right answer on
the spot. Remember that these situations are difficult to accomplish without
preparation and practice. So if this happens to you and you forget the
suggested responses mentioned above don’t sweat it. The good thing is that you
can often follow up on the conversation. You can send an email or schedule a
meeting after you’ve had time to think. This will give you time to determine
the appropriate course of action, and prepare what you want to say.

Achieving Success with Drive by

Making a mental note of a few quick responses is key. Employing
this strategy will give you planning time when the discussion doesn’t require
immediate attention.  By practicing this
approach you’ll become a pro who will know how to have a conversation with
anyone. These tips will help you to regain your equilibrium so that you can
manage unexpected convos in a way that leaves you feeling better when it’s over.
I hope that sharing what I’ve learned will help you master those drive by

Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. Harvard University, March 2011 updated01 May 2018. Web. 28 April 2019.

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