Two simple steps to confidently communicate uncertainty

Imagine you are giving a presentation. It’s all going well. And then you are asked a question to which you have no definitive answer… How you respond will build or bruise your leadership brand.

Our world is complex, change is ever present, and we are frequently face uncertainty. I am often asked ‘How do I sound like a confident leader,  even when the situation is uncertain?’

‘That’s easy – I would just hedge my way out of it’  I can hear some of you thinking. Wrong answer! Hedging can damage your authority as a speaker and sound to the listener as though you doubt yourself.

Here’s a few common hedges that leave you sounding uncertain, rather than the situation:

  • In my opinion….
  • I guess….
  • I think that maybe…
  • I may not be right, but….

There are two simple steps for confidently communicating uncertainty:
1.   Confirm the subject – Know what you are talking about and lead with that. (Clue – you are not talking about yourself, so don’t start the sentence with ‘I’. To understand how inappropriate use of ‘I’ weakens your communication.

2.   Use these strong hedges to talk about real uncertainty – May, seems to, appears to, should, can, might

Here’s two examples to illustrate:

‘I guess we may be able to meet the project timelines.’ 
The project time lines may be met.’ Qualifying your answer further gives a more definitive response: ‘The project time lines appear possible if we are able to get signed off by this Friday.’

‘I may not be right but I think our competitors are following xyz strategy.’
‘Our competitors appear to be following xyz strategy.’

Where could you communicate uncertainty confidently so that you sound certain, even when the situation is uncertain?

Try it out and let me know how you go from here.

Have an Extraordinary (and confident) day