You’re in a meeting with your boss, discussing an upcoming initiative your department is working on. Suddenly, he springs it on you—that nausea-inspiring question you weren’t at all prepared for: "So, what are your ideas?"
Your mouth goes dry and the room appears to spin. Your supervisor is looking at you expectantly, like you’re about to spit out a suggestion that tops pre-sliced bread on the innovation scale. Unfortunately, you’re drawing a total blank—you have absolutely nothing to share.
What do you do? Trying to ramble on and talk your way around the issue will only make things worse, and you can’t very well pretend your phone’s ringing and hightail it out of there. Well, you could, but I don’t recommend it.
Instead, use one of these simple responses the next time you’re feeling fresh out of ideas. Whether it’s in a sit-down with your manager, a meeting with your team, or a call with an eager client, you’ll have something to fill the silence—without seeming unknowledgeable or unprepared.
Being put on the spot can be nerve-wracking, and that insanely high pressure and looming expectations usually only serve to completely stifle your creativity. When that spotlight’s shining on you, it’s tough enough to remember your own name—let alone come up with an earth-shatteringly good idea.
So sometimes the best thing you can do is just buy yourself a little bit of time. Not only does that take the stress out of the heat of the moment, but it’ll likely also give you the thinking room and information you need in order to actually come up with a brilliant suggestion.
Don’t worry, admitting that you’d prefer to have a brief pause rather than flying by the seat of your pants doesn’t need to make you look unimaginative. Instead, drive the point home that you want to come back to the drawing board with valuable contributions—rather than half-assed, completely off-the-cuff ideas you felt pressured to generate.
You’ve convinced yourself that you have absolutely zero ideas to offer. Believe me, I’ve been there. But, I’m willing to bet that if you really did some thinking, you could come up with at least something to say in response to that request for suggestions.
No, maybe you won’t have an idea that’s so unbelievably genius you’ll be heralded as your company’s know-it-all for decades to come. But, remember, not every idea needs to be a huge one. And, oftentimes you’re better off sharing something, rather than letting your mouth hang open and listening to the crickets chirp.
Again, I know this can be tough when you’re feeling fresh out of any worthwhile contributions. But, your response could be as simple as a nugget of wisdom about one small piece of the project or even a recommendation for another teammate who could really help push things along. Your idea doesn’t need to be grandiose—every little bit helps.
Furthermore, prefacing your suggestion with something like, "Just off the top of my head," makes it clear that you’re thinking on your feet, and that your idea is in no way meant to solve all of the world’s problems. If you feel so inclined, tack on the fact that you’ll continue to do some further research and thinking on the matter, and you’ll manage to skate out of that tight spot with the utmost poise and composure.
It can be hard to generate amazing ideas if you’re feeling unclear about a purpose or fuzzy on the necessary details. So, oftentimes, getting further explanation can solidify your understanding of the objective, help you come up with some new concepts, and just generally get those creative juices flowing.
When you’re pressed to contribute your own suggestions, don’t hesitate to request some elaboration and clarification on an area you’re somewhat confused about. Many times, this can actually serve to spark additional meaningful conversation that leads to even more (and ultimately better!) ideas from everybody.
Plus, if nothing else, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the project or challenge at hand—further arming you with the knowledge you need to pour into some research and come back with a well-informed suggestion at a later time.
"What ideas do you have?" When you have so many great suggestions they’re practically spilling out of you, that question can be exciting. But, when your mind is as empty as a grocery store during the Super Bowl? Well, suddenly that question is no longer thrilling—it’s terrifying.
Do your best to resist the urge to ramble incessantly (or worse, feign food poisoning in an effort to get out of there as soon as possible), and instead rely on one of these three responses. They’ll get you out of that bind in a way that’s perfectly professional and polished—no fake doctor’s note required.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.