We have spent some time in the blog talking about the importance to leadership, personal development, and creativity that asking great questions has.
But equally important is listening for great answers.
YES or NO
One my last bosses taught me a valuable lesson about answering closed ended questions. He said:
“Kevin, if the CEO asks you a yes or no question, you answer yes or no.”
Seems obvious, right. But more often than not what I was doing was elaborating well beyond the simple response, at times wasting time and sharing non critical details. It was a difficult lesson to learn as I felt I had valuable material to share. I also notice it quite a bit more now in my role, even with leaders. The take away here is that if a leader asks a closed end question give them a confident yes or no. If the opportunity presents itself to share more, you will be asked or you may ask permission to share additional details.
*A note on the confident response: As a teen I used to umpire little league baseball games as a summer job. The first rule for umpires is always give a confident call, even if the play is close. If fans see a wishy-washy call, one side will jump all over you. If you consistently give confident calls on “strikes”, “outs”, and “safes”, the more likely you are to get support whether the play is close or not. I am not suggesting fudging or faking here, but rather a confident answer will often suffice for the leader asking. And wishy-washy responses invite an unwanted or unnecessary line of questions and follow up actions.
You didn’t answer my question
If we assume for a second that you are asked an open ended question and you answer with sufficient detail, concisely, then awesome. But sometimes what I see when I ask questions that require more than a yes or no is that I will get lengthy answers that are off on a tangent or unrelated to the question. In those instances I simply, and politely reply, “that is not the question I asked” or “thank you, but let me clarify my question.” Often this will happen in an interview where a candidate may be nervous or you are a the 7th interview among 8 in a day. But sometimes this may happen with a staff member and then it causes a line of deeper questions. Again, I am not advocating for false answers or semi truths but if the question isn’t clear there is absolutely no harm in requesting that clarification.
*A note on conciseness: I struggle with this. The same boss who taught to answer yes or no often “coached ” me to stop answering questions like an engineer. He was right. Again a tough pill to swallow but conciseness is absolutely critical in leadership. It doesn’t mean watering down the message but rather again being confident in your reply to keep it simple. Being prepared and learning to anticipate questions goes a long way here. But you can never prepare for everything so some test the best answer is:
I don’t know…
Sadly, most people are petrified to give this answer for fear they will be viewed as not knowledgeable. But nothing could be further from the truth. Again if shared confidently with a commitment to get back to the leader in a given time.frame can actually earn a lot of respect rather than try to fumble your way through. I jave heard a lot zinger questions, but more often than not a leader will ask a question from another point of view based on their experience or information they have. Saying “I don’t know, but will find out and get back to you by ______” requires vulnerability and openness to allow you to learn new insights.
Admittedly, I still work on all of these. I sometimes think back to that boss when I run on with an answer, but each time I learn and get a little more confident.
Here are this week’s 5 for 5 articles:
Tell Me What You Did Today, And I’ll Tell You Who You Are – by Benjamin P. Hardy – via Medium
- SO WHAT: One of my favorites this week……too much truth here to skip. A great read.
In Leadership, Look for the “and” – by Conant Leadership
- SO WHAT: Learning to see the “and” is an important differentiator among leaders
Creative brains need time off – by Iain Tait – via the Creative Review
- SO WHAT: If hard driving ad agencies have figured out that we need time away from work to rest and incubate ideas why can’t the rest of us do the same?
Two Simple Rules To Get Control Of Your Email – by Stephanie Vozza – via Fast Company
- SO WHAT: Great ideas. Batching is a huge time saver if you have the discipline to do it.
On Luck & Serendipity – by Scott Belsky – via Medium
- SO WHAT: “Luck is not a thing; it is a perspective”
all the best, kevin