A wit once commented, "I asked what time it was and he told me how to build a watch."
This expression describes the two most common errors in responding to questions during meetings and presentations -- not answering the question and giving too much detail.
To the question, "Do you think our current inventory level is sufficient for the next month?" the manager responded, "You know, we have changed our ordering procedures, and that has resulted in the mix of inventory we currently stock." The manager continued for another five minutes on the subject and still did not answer the question. A simple "yes" or "no" would have been sufficient.
Try to avoid the following common mistakes when answering questions:
* Unnecessary detail. Listen carefully to the question and provide just enough detail to answer the individual's concern.
* Lengthy responses. As a rule of thumb, an answer longer than 15 to 20 seconds is usually too long. It is not necessary to tell the listener everything you know about the subject.
* Vague responses. You can answer many questions with a "yes" or "no." Do it.
* Ignoring others. Too often responders focus all of their attention totally on the person asking the question. Other members of the group feel ignored. Remember to look at other members of the audience when answering questions.
* Lack of sensitivity. Consider all questions to be appropriate. Avoid discouraging questions with sharp or insulting responses.
* Arguing. Avoid arguing with the person asking the question. If you disagree, simply say, "I understand, we have a difference of opinion on this issue."
* Not summarizing. Toward the end of the meeting, summarize the major points of agreement and disagreement among members of the meeting.
Managers who develop the art of responding to questions significantly improve communication within their departments.
Gerald Graham is a professor at Wichita State University and a B management consultant. Send questions to The Wichita Eagle,
P.O. Box 820, Wichita, Kan. 67201. He will answer representative A questions in the newspaper but cannot respond to every 7 request.
Check your answers
Recall a recent meeting where questions were asked. Check all of the following that occurred.
The responder to the questions:
1. Did not answer many questions.
2. Typically, gave too much detail.
3. Took too long to answer simple questions.
4. Ignored all but the one who asked the question.
5. Responded in an insulting way.
6. Got into an argument with the person asking the question.
7. Seemed disturbed by the nature of some questions.
8. Got defensive.
9. Took more than 20 seconds to answer a question.
10. Failed to summarize agreements and disagreements.
Three or more checks suggest a strong need to improve the art of responding to questions.