Handling Questions Effectively

Presentations are usually followed by a question answer session. This could be the most interesting part of your presentation as it helps you to clarify the content of your presentation and to interact with your audience meaningfully. However it could be your worst nightmare if you are not able to handle the questions well. Preparation for this session will go a long way in aptly answering the questions .

 Here are the tips for effectively responding to questions, especially the difficult ones:

  1. Always remain calm. Avoid getting perturbed or defensive.
  2. Be prepared. Think of the possible questions and rehearse the answers even before the presentation session.
  3. Lay down the rules in the beginning. Let the audience know what type of questions will be answered at what point of time. Questions that require clarification could be answered during the presentation and those that require additional information could be answered afterwards.
  4. Maintain control over the questioning. Limit the number of questions a person can ask. Allow only one person to speak at a time. Give a chance to every member in the audience to ask questions
  5. Listen to the entire question, understand it, re-phrase and repeat it to the audience if necessary before you answer the question.
  6. Answer the question by focusing your attention on the questionner for one-fourth of the time and on the audience the rest of the time.
  7. If, you do not know the answer, be honest. However you can offer to find out the answer or suggest the source from which the person could get it. Don’t apologize for not knowing the answer.
  8. To answer a person who heckles you with provocative or disruptive statements – do not repeat what has been put to you unless the question or statement is to your benefit. Review the statement looking for the underlying motive. Use your analysis of the statement, to rephrase it as a question so that the content is no longer antagonistic to your own position.
  9. If you think a heckler is trying to be merely disruptive through his question, remain calm and ask him what his answer would be. Once he has had his say or you find the rest of the audience getting restless, close with a polite “I will have to give a chance to others to ask their questions” and move to the next question.
  10. 9.With a person who is trying to show off or deliberately trap you into a mistake, again wait till the statement or question is complete, re-frame the phrase asking whether you have understood it right and answer only if you are sure of the facts. If not, you can say something like “That is an interesting idea. I’ll have to look into it when we take a break”.
  11. The best way to deal with absolutes like “Everyone knows that”and “It’s quite obvious that” is to be calm and ask for validation of the statement.
  12. When a person strongly disagrees with you and refuses to stop arguing a point with you, you could respond, “Thank you for your opinion, I accept that there are different viewpoints on this issue.” Insist that time constraints mean that you must move to the next question.
  13. If a person is rude or provokes you with a contentious question, calm yourself and then answer the question to the best of your ability. Ignore the personal, embarrassing comments and questions.
  14. Even if the audience is not in agreement with your answer but you are sure of your facts, stand your ground in a reasonable manner. If you are wrong have the humility to accept it.
  15. Although some people get a perverse pleasure from putting others on the wrong foot, and some try to look smart in front of the boss, most people ask questions from a genuine interest. Questions do not always mean you did not explain the topic well , but that the audience interest is deeper than that of the average audience.

The key to an effective conclusion to a presentation is to speak with conviction and answer with confidence.

Dr Vinaya Prabha V Baligar

Professional Counsellors versus Non-Professional Counsellors

So you have decided that you need counseling and want to seek help?  Are you unsure about whom to approach? Many individuals face this dilemma. The fact that so many professionals exist only complicates the matter. So how do you choose the right therapist? And what is the difference between a professional counselor and a non- professional counselor. This article answers these questions.

 A professional counselor may be a psychologist, psychiatrist or a psychotherapist.

 A Psychologist is one who possesses a degree in psychology and is trained in human behavior. Psychologists who are trained in therapy are called psychotherapists; they can either be clinical psychologists or counseling psychologists. They are trained in psychological theory and assessment. They are trained in different methods of therapy and use the methods of their therapeutic orientation to counsel and assist the counselees. They also have the advantage of supervised experience in their therapeutic field of orientation. Psychotherapists may use psychological tests to assess their counselees.  

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders. A psychiatrist prescribes medicines as well as gives therapy to a patient.

Now, to answer the question as to why you should seek the services of a professional therapist. The professional is trained in the scientific therapeutic methods. They have the advantage of supervised experience in their therapeutic field .The validity and effectiveness of these methods has been proven by research over the years across many countries, cultures and social systems.  They are trained to be non-judgmental and non-biased. All information given to them by the counselee is kept confidential. Professionals do not give advice. On the other hand they act as facilitators in helping counselees with their problems

A non-professional counselor can be a lay person like a relative or a friend. They could also be volunteers, social and community workers. They may not have a degree in psychology. A non-professional counselor can be a good listener with basic counseling skills who is interested in helping you out with your problems. They may have a certificate in counseling, giving them knowledge and basic skills in counseling theory and methods. They may not have supervised training in therapy.

So, next time you decide to go for counseling, keep the above points in mind and then make your choice about whom to consult.


The Fallibility of Psychological Testing

Psychological testing has become rampant across industries, more so in the case of Information Technology, BPOs and ITES companies. These tests are used to ‘throw up’ personality profiles and competency descriptions that would help companies recruit the ‘right’ candidate. The Human Resources department in most organizations is responsible for the administering of Psychometric tests.

The International body that sets guidelines for testing is the International Test Commission (ITC) which stipulates guidelines for adaptation and usage of tests. ITC has issued guidelines to cover the following –

  • Professionals and ethical standards in testing
  • Rights of the test candidate and other parties involved in the testing process
  • Choice and evaluation of alternative tests
  • Test administration, scoring and interpretation
  • Report writing and feedback.

ITC has defined Competence in test use as “A Competent test will use tests appropriately, professionally and in ethical manner, paying due regard to the needs and rights of those involved in the Testing process, the reasons for testing, and the broader context in which the testing takes place.”

There are many reasons why a test can be fallible-

  1. Inappropriate usage of Tests
    The norms for which the tests have been designed have to be considered carefully. They cannot be administered to a population that is different from the norm population (Norm population can be adolescents, senior executives; norms could be based on age, occupation, gender, economic status etc.). That is, a test designed for adolescents cannot be administered on Senior Executives and vice versa because the results of such administration would be faulty.
  2. Culture Fair Testing
    Another common flaw is in the usage of tests which are not culture fair. Many psychological tests have been designed for the western population and can be used appropriately only in that culture. Unfortunately many of these tests are used on the Indian population giving rise to faulty conclusions.
  3. Design of test
    The psychometric can only be designed by professionals qualified in psychometrics. Many a times lay people design test using the help of information accessed through the internet or sometimes even from their own common sense. Such tests are not valued.
  4. Validation of test
    Evert test that has been designed has to be validated. The process of validation would involve administering the test on large population over a period of time before it is certified as “ready for use”. This cannot be done from tests that are fabricated overnight.
  5. Downloaded test
    Often tests are downloaded from the internet and are used for proposes other than for which they have been designed. For e.g. a personality test being used to test the emotional intelligence or team skills of a person.
  6. Wrong customization
    Sometimes the items of a test are changed to suit the user. In such instance the test cannot give valid result. For example an item (a question / statement in the test) would state – ‘Do you usually date on weekends?’, could be changed to ‘ do you socialize on weekends ‘ to fit the Indian scenario. The results of the tests with such changed items will not be valid.
  7. Test administration
    The test administration should be systematically standardized, i.e., the test should be administered exactly under the same condition to all the users. This means that the actual test environment, the instruction, the timing and materials are the same on every test occasion. Before administering the test the user must consider the following deadlines-
    • What is the purpose of testing?
    • What outcomes will be achieved through testing?
    • Why are these specific tests being used?
    • Why are these tests relevant to the outcomes being sought?
    • What evidence is there that these tests are appropriate for the people who are to be accessed?
  8. Confidentiality of test results All results of test must be maintained by the administrator in strict confidence. Revealing the results could lead to unfair discrimination in the workspace. This happens when a selection that is used is disadvantageous to certain groups within the organizations. For example the results of IQ tests conducted on students were revealed to the teachers to the disadvantage of the students. The teachers who were privy to the IQ test information exhibited prejudiced judgments about those students who scored low in these tests. Consequently, the use of IQ tests in the US schools has been banned and can only be used after prior permissions from the parents.To ensure confidentiality, the following guidelines should be considered:Ensure that test materials are kept securely.
    1. Ensure that test materials are kept securely
    2. Ensure secure storage of and control access to test materials.
    3. Respect copyright law and agreements that exist with respect to a test including any prohibitions on the copying or transmission of materials in electronic or other forms to other people, whether qualified or otherwise.
    4. Protect the integrity of the test by not coaching individuals on actual test materials or other practice materials that might unfairly influence their test performance.
    5. Ensure that test techniques are not described publicly in such a way that their usefulness is impaired.
  9. Competence of Test Administrator and Interpreter  he personnel administering the tests have to be strict in following the instructions stipulated by the test designers. The interpretations too have to be done by qualified personnel who are psychologists.
  10. Limitation of tests  The tests are ‘limited’ for the purposes for which they have been designed. For a holistic assessment of an individual, it is required that the test results are supplemented by information from interviews and group discussions. In addition the test results are not valid after eighteen months of its administration.
  11. Test Copyrights  It is an offence to copy tests that have been copyrighted. They can only be used after the necessary permission is obtained from the designers. Otherwise this illegal copying may lead to lack of standardization in test condition and poor control of materials.
  12. Test feedback  Often times the guidelines for feedback are not followed by the Users. The British Psychological Society has set out the following guidelines for written and oral feedback:
  • Ensure that the technical and linguistic levels of any reports are appropriate for the level of understanding of the recipients.
  • Make clear that the test data represent just one source of information and should always be considered in conjunction with other information.
  • Explain how the importance of the test results should be weighted in relation to other information about the people being assessed.
  • Use a form and structure for a report that is appropriate to the context of the assessment.
  • When appropriate, provide third parties with information on how results may be used to classify people into categories (e.g. for diagnostic purposes or for job selection).
  • Include within written reports a clear summary, and when relevant, specific recommendations.
  • Present oral feedback to test takers in a constructive and supportive manner.

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive Behavior Therapy places a lot of importance of an individual’s  way of thinking. All of us are prone to some common mistakes or distortions in thinking. This in turn influences the way we perceive the environment around us, and our interactions with people. 

Given below is an excerpt from the book “The Feeling Good Handbook ” by David D Burns, which explains the Cognitive Distortions.

We all tend to think in extremes…and when traumatic events happen we think that way even more. Here are some common cognitive distortions. Take a look and see if any of them are getting in your way.

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  2. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  4. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  5. Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
  6. Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.
  7. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  8. Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  9. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  10. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  11. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  12. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.

Source: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.


Managing Stress

  • Try to follow a daily routine. Avoid disorganization.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Physical exercise everyday can help you to reduce stress. However do not overdo the exercise- otherwise this itself can get stressful!
  • Learn a meditation technique and use it. A 10 minute meditation everyday can help you cope better with the tensions that life brings you.
  • Watch the way you breathe. Deep breathing helps to relax us.
  • Try to avoid worrying. Instead schedule a “worry time” of 10 minutes everyday, if necessary, in which you can worry.
  • Manage time so that you can avoid rushing
  • Be realistic about the goals that you would like to achieve in your life. Being overambitious can lead to stress.
  • Do not let petty problems get the better of you. Decide whether a problem is worth getting stressed about.
  • Spend time with people whose company you enjoy.
  • Develop a sense of humor.
  • Take time to partake in activities that you like-listening to music, painting, going on a hike etc.

The important thing to remember is that life has its ups and downs. A lot depends on the way you perceive a situation. If you feel that certain situations and circumstances are overpowering, use your resources, skills, intelligence to ride over the wave of problems. When life is good, enjoy yourself!

Dr Vinaya Prabha V Baligar

Coping with Stress

Stress is the physical and mental tension you feel when you are faced with  the demands and pressures that come from school, work, family. It could also arise from unrealistic rules and  expectations that you impose on yourself, from your obligations and from excessive self-criticism.

The Stress reaction tells you that you are under pressure. When under stress the heart beats faster, muscles get tense; you sweat, your mouth may go dry.

Signs of Stress

  • You might have a change in appetite or develop a headache.
  • You may feel anxious or you may lose your temper at the slightest provocation.
  • You may feel listless and lose interest in your work.
  • You may feel tearful, nervous or scared beyond reason
  • You may be unable to make decisions or to concentrate on classes or other activities
  • You may experience high levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent behavior
  • You may sleep excessively
  • You may procrastinate

Stress cannot be eliminated but you can learn how to handle it effectively.

Dr Vinaya Prabha V Baligar

Pathological Lying

 Is pathological lying a psychological problem?

Lying is not alien to human nature. But what distinguishes a deliberate liar from a pathological or compulsive liar is that deliberate liars know when they are lying but not pathological liars who are not always conscious of doing so.

Pathological lying as the name implies is definitely a psychological problem. It is a disorder wherein the person is unable to control his/her  irresistible impulse to lie. The pathological liar lies constantly, regardless of the situation and whether or not it is advantageous to lie! It is a habit with them and lying is often addictive.

Moreover, to make matters worse, pathological liars are usually unable to make a connection between their lying and the consequences of their lying on people around them.

What leads to it/ how is it diagnosed?

The causes are not very clear.

 However dysfunctional family patterns, family lying patterns, fear of rejection, fear of disapproval by significant people in one’s life, a sense of inadequacy, very low self esteem, a desire to measure up to a person or persons who are better/ more important/ more privileged  than oneself,  lying as a defense mechanism to protect oneself from shame/blame/ abandonment, lying to save face, lying to gain attention could be some of the causes of pathological lying.

Pathological lying could be a symptom of underlying disorders like personality disorders, multiple personality disorders.

Can it be treated?

Treatment can be long and difficult primarily because the person denies anything being wrong with him/her. They do not feel the need for help. Consequently the motivation to change is also minimal.

In treatment, attempts to make the patients conscious of their  falsehoods could cause them much distress as often the lies are defense mechanisms used to protect their self image. So there is a higher chance of their discontinuing therapy.

What is the line of treatment followed?

Brief, non-technical information would suffice.

 Line of treatment could include therapy, medication or both.

Through therapy they could be:

  • made to face their fears in the relatively safe environment of therapy
  • given techniques and assisted to increase their self esteem
  • be helped to deal with their distorted thinking patterns and by replacing their faulty beliefs  with  realistic beliefs.

How should the family deal with such behaviour?

  • The family would be required to deal with such behaviour with understanding and sensitivity. -Role modelling of honest  behaviour by the family members would be required.
  • The family member who lies should consistently “not be rewarded” ( in psychological and actual terms)for his/her behaviour instead the person should be consistently rewarded for NOT lying.
  • Arbitrary and inconsistent punishment of the person who lies would result in the person trying to avoid punishment through lying to avoid the punishment or blame.
  • Superficial conformity should not be encouraged or rewarded.
  • Warm and close relationships should be developed between the family members.
  • There should be open, honest and emotionally expressive communication between them.

Personal Coaching

In these days of rapid changes in the business environment, individuals need to continuously upgrade their personal and work related skills. They also require skills to effectively face the changing environment. Therefore personal coaching is becoming a welcome trend in organizations. Coaching is for individuals who are seeking to enhance their performance and perhaps reaching excellence in a given area of their personal or professional life.

According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), coaching can be defined as “an ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life.”

Personal coaching focuses on an individual’s personal and professional goals and progress.It is future oriented and focuses on the resolution of problems and the achievement of results based on goals set by the individual. The assumption in coaching is that individuals are capable of generating their own solutions provided that they are given the required support, skills, knowledge. Coaches are persons with a set of skills they use to support people to achieve goals. The coach listens, provides observations and gives concepts and principles which can help in generating increased options and in identifying actions that could be taken by the individual. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on action, accountability and follow through.

Some of the instances where coaching can be useful include:

  • When there is a goal that the individual wants to achieve but does not possess certain skills, knowledge or resources required to reach it. These can be provided by the coach.
  • An individual has a lot of potential but is unable to maximally use it because of lack of awareness, motivation or lack of certain skills
  • An individual lacks people skills
  • The individual requires support and motivation to achieve work or personal goals
  • There is a lack of clarity about work related or personal issues
  • There is an imbalance in work and home life
  • The individual is unable to identify his or her core strengths and how best to leverage them
  • There is a lack of self confidence and self worth

Coaching helps people focus on what matters most in their business and personal lives. It puts them in charge of their own lives.

The coaching process

 Coaching begins with a personal interview- face-to-face or through a tele-conference. In this interview, the individual’s current opportunities and challenges, personal strengths and areas of growth are assessed. Further, the scope of the relationship and specific desired outcomes are delineated, priorities for action are established. Subsequent coaching sessions may be conducted in person or over the telephone. The coaching session normally lasts for an hour but can vary depending on the individual’s needs. Sessions are held at  mutually convenient and agreed upon time periods.  Sessions could be held once or twice a month. Between scheduled coaching sessions, the individual may be asked to complete specific actions that support the achievement of one’s personally prioritized goals. The coach may provide additional resources in the form of relevant articles, assessments, or models, to support the individual’s thinking and actions.

The length of a coaching partnership could vary between 3 months to a year. Factors that could affect the length of time include: the types of goals, the ways individuals or teams like to work, the frequency of coaching meetings, and financial resources available to support coaching.


Managing Anger

Anyone can become angry- that is easy.

But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way- this is not easy.


Anil and Aniruddh came out of the business meeting, very angry. Their boss had been very critical of their work and had not even a word of praise for them. Anil followed the boss into his cabin, started shouting at him, and told him what he thought of him. He threw in his resignation  letter and walked out, still in anger.

Aniruddh, instead, waited till his boss was in a relaxed mood, and then, sought an appointment. He told his boss how terribly pained he was by his criticism and asked for clarification on how to improve his work. Aniruddh came out of his boss’ cabin, satisfied and with a better understanding of what his boss expected of him at work.

Anger is a normal reaction to any situation or person that we perceive as frustrating or threatening to our  wellbeing. However, when anger gets out of control, it can destroy our relationships and the quality of our life. Can we manage anger so that the immense energy produced by it can be useful to us? Yes, if we follow Aristotle’s diktat. Here are some tips to help you practise it:

Tips for anger management:

  • Note the triggers: the people, events, circumstances that set off your anger.
  • When you’re angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated. Logic defeats anger.  Replace thoughts which reinforce your anger with more rational ones. Eg. instead of thinking, “oh, this situation is  terrible,” tell yourself, “it’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.”
  •  Avoid discussing important issues with your colleagues or spouse when you are tired or distracted.
  • Be careful with words like “always”, “never” when referring to your or others’ behavior. Statements like “ My boss never appreciates me ”, “ I always  mess up” are usually not correct.
  • What are your expectations of others – do you demand fairness, appreciation, agreement with your ways of doing things? Translate these demands into desires: “ I would  like it if……..” rather than demanding it.
  • Communicate your expectations to others. Find out other’s expectations of you. Decide which of these you would like to satisfy.
  •  Do not jump to conclusions. Consciously slow down, think carefully before you act or say anything. To get a balanced perspective, remind yourself that you are experiencing a rough spot in your life and  others are not trying to “get at you.”
  • Ask yourself “By expressing my anger now or in a particular way, will it achieve the result I seek?”
  • Maintain your cool through deep breathing, using a relaxation response, visualizing a positive situation.
  • Sometimes we cannot change, get rid of or avoid people or events that anger us. At such times focus on how  to face the problem rather than getting frustrated by it.
  • If you feel your anger is affecting your relationships and important aspects of your life, consider consulting a psychologist for help.

You can decide whether you react in anger or with calm to difficult situations or people. Anger is a CHOICE YOU make.

Dr Vinaya Prabha V. Baligar