Data Volley: The Secret to Handling Unexpected Questions at Work

Being put on the spot with a question can be unnerving, especially at work. Your mind races, trying to come up with an appropriate response, but all you feel is a mental block. It’s not uncommon for professionals, regardless of their level, to experience this, and sometimes, it’s hard to shake that feeling of being trapped.

Thankfully, I’ve got a secret weapon for you.

Imagine this: you’re at work, minding your business, when suddenly, your manager (or worse, the CEO) stands next to your desk, giving you that expectant look and asking, “So, what’s going on?” It’s a moment of truth, and you’re looking for the words to come tumbling out, organized and eloquent. But, they don’t. Instead, your brain stutters and stammers, grasping for an adequate response.

This is where the “data volley” comes in handy. 

Think of a game of volleyball. In a perfect game, the ball is served, received, and then spiked back to the opponent’s court – quick and direct. Similarly, in a data volley, you respond to the question swiftly and directly, offering a concise answer and then pausing to let the questioner take the next step.

Here’s how to execute a perfect data volley:

Provide a Succinct Update

Your response should be as brief as possible while still delivering valuable information. Start with the most crucial aspect of your work or offer a very short list of updates.

Pause and Make Eye Contact

This step is crucial and often overlooked. By pausing and making eye contact, you show that you’re engaged in the conversation and give the requestor a chance to process the information you’ve provided.

React to Their Response

At this point, one of three things will likely happen:

  • The questioner acknowledges your answer and moves on.
  • They ask a follow-up question, initiating a conversation.
  • They frown or appear confused, which is your cue to ask if you’ve answered their question.

Regardless of the outcome, the data volley helps you move past that initial paralysis and engage actively in the discussion.

Now, let’s break down why the data volley works so well:


By keeping your response short and to the point, you avoid overwhelming the requestor with excessive information, and you minimize the chance of rambling or losing focus.


Making eye contact and pausing after your response shows you’re present in the conversation and actively participating. It also invites the questioner to engage further.


The data volley approach allows you to adapt to the situation based on the questioner’s response. Whether they’re satisfied, want more information, or seem confused, you’re ready to respond appropriately.

But, how do you prepare for a data volley when you’re not sure when or what you’ll be asked? Keep these tips in mind:

Know Your Work

Familiarize yourself with your projects, tasks, and responsibilities. The more you know about what you’re working on, the easier it will be to provide a concise update when asked.


Identify the most critical aspects of your work and be prepared to discuss them. It’s not necessary to provide every detail, but you should be able to give a high-level overview.


The more you use the data volley technique, the more comfortable and natural it will become. Practice with a colleague or even in front of a mirror. Remember to keep it short, pause, and make eye contact.

So, next time you’re caught off guard by that inevitable “What’s going on?” question at work, remember the data volley. Serve a swift, direct response, pause for effect, and engage in the conversation. You’ll not only overcome that initial moment of uncertainty but also establish yourself as a confident and effective communicator.

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