Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just Answer the Question

If someone asks you "How long will it take for you to get here?" and your reply is "Well, I have to stop by the store and then go pick up something from Karima's house, so I should be to you by 6 or later," then this article is for you.

If the request is "Let's pick a day to do lunch. What day works for you?" and you respond with "I have meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Next week is hectic," then this is post is for you, too.

Our need to explain, to put things in context, and give unsolicited back-story is crippling. Feminine energy, loquacious Gemini that I am, I have been chastised about this since childhood. Today, however, there's improvement, mostly because I have more work than time on my hands.

In business communications, unless asked, don't top your responses with your process and thoughts patterns for how you arrived from point A to point B. No one cares. Just answer the question.

5 Top Tips on How to Just Answer the Question (Especially in Business Communications)
5. Listen and pay attention. In most conversations, people don't listen to other people. They actually wait their turn to speak. Not cool.
4. More often than not, it's best to keep the personal out of it.
3. Resist the urge to give the back-story, unless asked. Meat first, gravy later.
2. Say "I don't know" if you don't know. It's a perfectly acceptable response and 100% better than improvisation.
1. Seek precision. 

Get a "free space" partner. 
My business partner and I have been best friends for over 20 years. With him, I have the free space to whine and to share all my rants, frustrations, and even my irrationalities. There's a healthy balance of push back as well as commendation in this space. I do all this with my business partner so that I'm as clear-headed as possible when I engage with my staff, clients, and colleagues. Your communications will improve if you disconnect from festering emotions. Find a free space partner to help keep your field of vision clear.

Ask yourself why.

Examine why you have a need to share so much context and nuances when answering questions. For me, I had a strong aversion for misunderstandings. I have always believed that only if you have all the letters in the alphabet, so to speak, could you tell the whole story. Without all the pieces, nothing fully works as it should. While that's true, it manifested in me over-communicating. Similarly, a friend admitted that the reason he talks so much and talks so fast is because he was a naturally curious child who was stifled, often violently. He would get hit in the mouth for asking a question or just for speaking. Now, as a grown man, his idea of being fully expressed is to get it all in...all the time, even if it means talking over people.

Identify the tools that will improve your communication, in business and beyond. Remember that listening is critically important. It involves a focus on "the other," which may be challenging in our "me, my, and I" focused culture. But it's worth it.

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