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Are you answering the question that was actually asked?


Often times we are needlessly skipping ahead.

Instead of answering the direct question we:

  • make assumptions about what the poser is asking and speak to that
  • launch into additional/background information
  • preemptively defend our position.

It’s not surprising that we choose to use our speaking time on the above. Many of us have conditioned ourselves to communicate that way due to the experiences we’ve had where we’ve been misunderstood.

Universal truth: no one likes feeling misunderstood.

While the underlying reason varies, it typically has something to do with having one of our fundamental BSPACE values being stepped on.

But communicating this way isn’t all bad.

I’d venture that making assumptions, giving unrequested additional/background information, and going on the offensive to defend our stance/decision sometimes serves us well, depending on who we are speaking with.

What I’m suggesting here is that it shouldn’t be your default way of answering questions.

To break out of the habit, try an experiment. For one week, commit to answering the exact question that was asked, using brevity as your main goal. Then ask your listener “did that answer your question?” and refine from there as needed.

If you are usually verbose and are worried that people will mistake your brevity for curtness, feel free to prime them in advance -- "I'm experimenting with trying to focus on answering only the question that was asked, and doing so succinctly. If I seem shorter in my communications, that's what's going on".

Put your observation skills to the test and pay close attention to whether others answer the question they were asked during meetings, emails, etc.

Advanced practice: See if you can notice when conflict arises due to someone feeling misunderstood – whether it is you or someone else.

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