When using questions can be a bad idea

When using questions can be a bad idea

An email came across my desk this week as I was thinking about the most useful idea for you that would build on last week's focus of ‘saying what you mean'.

It was an email from a tool that I use which was structured around a list of questions (see below).

To me, using questions like this misses a big opportunity for a coherent story and makes the audience work far too hard to grasp the main idea. Here are the problems I see with structuring communication around questions with one caveat:

The problem: structuring communication around questions almost guarantees your audience will miss your point

#1 – By highlighting the questions in bold, you are prioritising it over the answer. This then leaves you exposed to the risk that the audience may decide your communication is not important enough to invest the time needed for them to find your message.

#2 – By using questions as the main structuring device, you are at risk of providing your audience with the raw data rather than a coherent message that describes what the data means to your audience.

I have often seen people identify the questions they need to answer to solve a problem, collect the evidence and then send the list of questions with their evidence underneath as their ‘communication'.

This strategy ensures that both you and your audience miss the point. Your audience is less likely to get your message in part because you haven't articulated it to yourself.

The caveat: FAQs can be useful when combined with a powerful story

As a final caveat, I do understand that there are times that it is useful to have a series of FAQs (frequently asked questions), perhaps at the end of a presentation or information package. You will have seen our own FAQs on our site, for example.

This is not the same as focusing your whole communication around the questions, which I would caution against.

Cheers, Davina

Keywords: #questions #synthesis #structure

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.

What do we do if our audience does not answer our question?

What do we do if our audience does not answer our question?

In my recent webinar one of the participants, Rob asked an interesting question: when sitting on a board, what do you do if the business leaders consistently do not answer your questions?

He mentioned that he and other board members were finding this to be a problem: when asked a question, the leaders would ‘beat around the bush' and not answer it.

The key is to understand why they are not answering the questions and then to respond accordingly.

There could be all sorts of reasons why someone does not answer your question, but they would I think fall into three potential categories: they don't know the answer, they don't know how to provide the answer or they don't want to provide the answer.

In most instances, the problem is more likely to be caused by either not knowing the answer, or not knowing how to explain it succinctly, although not wanting to provide it can't be ruled out.

Here are a few ideas for thinking that through:

Not wanting to answer

This is the hardest of all and requires a judgement call: work out why they don't want to answer and act accordingly. It could be that they are afraid of getting the answer wrong, that they are concerned about the political risks of answering correctly, or that they have something to hide. Either way, it is important to understand why they are not wanting to answer before responding. If they are afraid of getting it wrong, encouragement would work better, however if they have something to hide no amount of encouragement will help.

Not knowing how to answer

In this area it is hard for me to avoid offering some of our tools to help. Here are some free options:

  • Offer a template to enable them to focus on one main idea and then break their answer into logical parts.  You can get one here that might help http://bit.ly/storylinetemplates
  • Suggest they download the free chapter of our book, The So What Strategy here: http://sowhatstrategy.com
  • Invite them to try a free module of our online Clarity Concepts course, available at https://claritycollege.co

Not knowing the answer

This one is the easiest of all to fix: Give them advance warning by providing important questions before the meeting. When doing so, add extra contextual information in your request so you can be confident that they understand the context of the request and can tailor their response accordingly.

For example, general requests such as “update me on the state of the widget market” are not as useful as “please explain your view on the future of the widget market in light of new XYZ technologies that will come on stream over the coming two years”.

I hope this helps – if you would like more on this topic, download the full set of FAQs from the webinar here.

Keywords: leadership

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.