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Answer The Question

The past two weeks have been like a coaching carrousel. As I reflect on many conversations during that period one observation stands out…People rarely answer the questions they’re being asked. Whether I was being advised, mentoring, or simply sharing in dialogue with a colleague, my observation was reinforced.

This reflection period started with a consultative conversation I and the eXponere team was engaged in, where we were positioned as the clients. The consultants we visited with asked tough, thought provoking questions which admittedly made me a bit uncomfortable. Why? The consultants seemed to be “questioning to the void.” Though not using the “5 whys” method, it was more of a “what” and “how” approach to analyzing our organizational goals and our effectiveness in pursuing them. It felt intrusive but progressive as we were asked questions repeatedly, and in different ways, until we answered them.

In a separate exchange, I was providing some interview prep assistance to a long-time mentee. To prepare for an interview, she was going through the process of articulating her relative experiences in response to a written set of structured interview questions. As I read through her responses I noticed a trend. Though the questions were clear and direct, she seemed to be responding with what she thought the interviewer would want to hear. Had the prep exercise been a verbal exchange I could more readily understand, but given time to read the questions, process what was being asked and then respond, I felt a bit disappointed and frustrated because she didn’t answer the questions.

With that frustration now flavoring my thoughts I began to analyze conversations with my peers and noticed that many didn’t actually answer the questions submitted to them through email, thus triggering more email exchanges. Conversations with my direct reports, some family member, and friends showed the same trend.

As the common denominator in these exchanges and the two week reflection time, I’ve put considerable thought into my personal accountability to this communication inefficiency and the role of questioning. I long ago learned that, “if you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” — Edward Hodnett

The lesson in this reflection: While asking great questions is a means to establishing root cause, assessing skills and abilities, and gathering pertinent information for future use, actually answering the question(s) being asked is equally important in effectively communicating. Certainly being on the receiving end of questions to the void can be exhausting. Direct and concise answers get you there most efficiently. Effective answers begin with effective intake. That means read it the question twice and/or LISTEN intently when one is being asked. As I’ve been taught… listen to understand, not to respond.

Our ability to answer questions is a reflection of our growth and development. It exposes who we are, what we know, and often what we’re capable of. It allows us to take advantage of opportunities (i.e. perform well in job interviews), and provide support when questioned by those in need. When asked a question, remove the noise, dismiss your bias, and consider the context, but please ANSWER THE QUESTION.