As a litigator, I am often called to prepare witnesses for deposition and trial. I have a few instructions for every witness. One seminal instruction relates to how a person answers any question: think quickly, speak slowly. Indeed, the stress of a trial or a deposition can trigger nervousness, and nervousness can lead to quick responses that are sometimes not thought through. My instruction to my clients and witnesses is intended to remind them that there is no set period within which an answer must be given. Rather, they should take their time and answer the question posed carefully and thoughtfully.
Outside of litigation, I’ve encountered situations that parallel trials and depositions. I’ve encountered people who are aggressive, who push for answers. Instinctually, I’ve felt compelled to provide an answer to their questions, even when the question seems inappropriate, or when time was needed to put together information to provide a proper answer. Stress and nervousness crept into these exchanges. I know I gave answers simply to stop the aggressor from continuing to push. But, one of two things happened after I answered: either the aggressor continued to push, or my answer was not entirely correct. Neither result gave me solace. Have you ever experienced this?
Since I became a litigator 15 years ago, I’ve tried to follow what I teach. Now, when I encounter that pushy person who wants information, that person who is aggressive and is demanding a response, I take the time to think through the question, to process and analyze the information available to me, and then to provide an answer. When I am unwilling to answer a question, I now say, “I am not comfortable answering that question.” When I don’t have an answer because I don’t have the facts, I now say, “I don’t know that answer. But, once I locate that information, I will follow up with you.”
It is up to you how you want to proceed. If you find yourself in similar situations, set your boundaries with your response. Take the time to think, process, analyze and then respond. It is not a sprint. This isn’t Jeopardy. You are not being timed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.