Neutral Bridge: Friend or Foe?

One of the best—and most controversial skills we teach in our workshops and coaching is the use of the Neutral Bridge when responding to challenging questions. Why best? Because it helps people think fast and stay focused when they get a truly tough question. Why controversial? Because people often perceive it as an additional step at an already stressful time—when they are faced with a challenging question.

We feel that using the Neutral Bridge is helpful for both the speaker and the listener, but we know there are times when you may not need a bridge, as well as times when you absolutely do. First, a quick reminder about using Neutral Bridges.

What is a Neutral Bridge? A bridge is anything that comes after the question is asked, and before your answer begins. People often use fillers (like a big “ummmm”) as bridges, or the ubiquitous “that’s a good question.” Neither one helps the audience understand (or hear) the question, and neither one focuses the speaker’s attention as quickly as a Neutral Bridge does. Essentially the bridge helps you restate the question in a clarified form before you answer it.

Examples of Neutral Bridges include, the question is ________, the question is about ________, the issue is ________, let’s take a look at ________, or I understand your concern about ________. Notice that in each case you have to fill in the blank with the issue or subject of the question, which is exactly what helps you focus your thoughts. Restating the question in this way helps the audience hear the question in a more neutral form and eliminates the awkward silence while you are thinking.

Do you always need to use a bridge? We don’t think it hurts to use a bridge every time, but there are times when you can safely skip it. For example:

  • When the question is straightforward

  • When everyone has heard it

  • When you feel calm and focused

  • When you have an answer ready

  • When it’s a simple question with a short answer

 How can I get more skillful and natural at using Neutral Bridges?

  •  Listen for bridges to see how others are or aren’t using them

  • Use a variety of bridges instead of relying on the same one all the time

  • Keep your bridges simple, so the focus stays on the topic, not the bridge

  • Practice using bridges until they roll off your tongue easily

  • Use them consistently in large audience situations

  • Look for natural bridges for conversations or informal situations

  • If you say “that’s a good question” just add the bridge to it

 We would love to hear how using bridges has helped you keep calm and focused when the questions get tough. Have you discovered any new bridges?