Never Answer the Question You’re Asked Until You do 3 Things

You love giving answers, but great answers to wrong questions are wearisome.

Irrelevance is annoying.

Great answers to wrong questions are wearisome. Image of a bored dog.

Wrong questions:

Don’t expect honest responses for accusations. “Why did you do that?” might feel genuine to you, but coming from the boss it’s an accusation.

Don’t deflect with fake curiosity. Avoidance is manipulation. People become distrustful when they notice avoidance.

Don’t use the Socratic method when it’s not a teaching moment. Socrates used inquiry to elicit truth from students. “Every situation isn’t a teaching moment. “Where is the restroom?” is not a teaching moment.

Never answer a question until you do 3 things:

#1. Express gratitude.

“Thanks for asking.”

You might be irritated at an interruption but seeking your perspective shows respect.

#2. Clarify purpose.

You interpret questions through your perspective and respond as if you had asked it yourself. You waste your breath until you understand intent. Assume you don’t.

  1. Irrelevant answers distract listeners.
  2. Detailed answers drain energy when simple answers are satisfactory.
  3. Long answers frustrate everyone except the speaker.

In job interviews people say, “Tell me about yourself.” Don’t begin with, “I was born.”

Seek clarity before you respond. “Thanks for asking. Could you help me focus my response? What areas most interest you?” Or, “I don’t want to bore you with unnecessary details. What areas of my life are relevant to you?”

Always clarify purpose, but don’t ask, “Why?” Ask, “What?” Unless you’re careful with tone, ‘why’ feels like an accusation.

Clarify purpose by asking…

  1. What makes this important to you?
  2. What causes this question to come to mind?
  3. What situation are you trying to solve?
  4. What are you trying to solve?

#3. Let people know they matter.

Genuine interest tells people they matter. Everyone wants to feel like they matter.

How do you figure out what people really want to know?

Still curious:

15 Questions that Change the Way People Think

The Best Leaders Ask Questions That Work

Answering the Wrong Question