What is your typical response when asked a challenging question?
- A blank panicked stare followed by a profusion of sweat.
- Whoa, that came out of left field.
- I haven't learned that yet.
- I didn't expect you to ask that.
- Shall I make a few tries at it before admitting that I don't know the answer?
All of the above responses tend to be real replies often given by employees during a serious or challenging question and answer process or session. Most know that it isn't the best way to respond, but failed to know what else to say. To be considered fluent and knowledgeable, it is essential to avoid these responses.
However, before responding to a question always consider a response from the questioner's perspective. In other words: Why is the person asking the question(s) in the first place?
In order to answer questions appropriately and effectively think about asking yourself these questions:
1. What is the individual looking for?
2. What past challenges might this person have had in the organization or with previous employees?
3. What qualities, skills and experiences can you infer are important to the questioner from the question(s) asked?
4. Are the topics or concerns being questioned about in his or her field of expertise, or out of it?
5. Who is asking the question? The owner, manager or a peer or colleague?
What to Avoid When Answering Questions
When answering questions try not to provide a superficial response to any question. This makes the questioning process muddied, as it slows the progress of getting to the issue at hand, as well as at the heart of the question. Avoid offering a broad or general response because an opportunity will be missed to demonstrate understanding about the topic's concerns, ramifications and issues. Avoid not answering the question, or skirting around it as it implies to the questioner they are not being listened to and they will become frustrated, and will start to tune out the response to the question. Don't give generic answers, which implies not mirroring the questioner's words in the response. If the specifics in the answer are not addressed, the questioner will likely be left with the impression that the responder didn't listen well, didn't understand the question, or really didn't care about the seriousness of the question itself. None of these responses leaves a positive impression on the questioner.
Listen Carefully to What the Question Implies, States and Asks
Listening carefully ensures the question was completely understood and can then be answered effectively, or shows if the question is not as clear and concise as it should be. Listening well is an art that involves good eye contact, body language, and other nonverbal cues. It is essential to pay attention to both what is being said and asked and the manner in which it is delivered. As it may well provide valuable tips to formulate effective responses to the question.
Don't Interrupt the Questioner
Interrupting someone is not just discourteous, but unprofessional. Not intentionally interrupting the questioner demonstrates the strength of one's listening skills and ability to respond to the questioner's inquires and to follow directions. If necessary, it is more effective to clarify the question or at the end, simply ask, "Was the question answered clearly enough?'
Provide a Complete and Precise Response
Take the time to formulate a response and remember that a moment of silence to collect one's thoughts is always acceptable. Begin the answer with a strong, positive opener including key critical points. Be concise, direct and confident while still providing an adequate amount of detail. When answering a question that has multiple components, section it off to ensure that each point was addressed. For example, you might say, "First, I would ____ then I think I would ____." After completely responding to one or more complex questions, provide a concise summary as to the whole of the topic or issue presented.
There are certain things to avoid when providing a response, such as: rushing through a response, providing only a superficial answer, trailing off at the end of a question, or not responding to prompts or signals that the questioner wants to hear more.
Prove Experience with Examples and Factual Statements
Share some personal experiences while responding which helps convince the questioner that you have the skills or the ability to transfer your knowledge and reasoning into new avenues of applications, perceptions and thinking.
However, make sure not to: reference the example(s) given, repeatedly use the same example during the question and answer process, choose a poor or inappropriate example, or use a good example, but provide it at the wrong time.
Ensure That Explanations Are Optimized
Most likely it will be impossible to give all the answers the questioner desires. Because of this, it is important to convince the individual that you do have: the potential to find out more about the topic being questioned, the ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another, and the desire to learn quickly and efficiently.
When providing an explanation do not create a link in experience and events from the past to the present and future or miss the opportunity to build confidence based on personal past experiences.
Volunteer More Information than Is Expected
Volunteer information that might not otherwise be asked about. If you have a particular accomplishment that qualifies within a response and it hasn't come up in the questioning process, make sure to work it in. Modesty and humility are fine personal traits to have, but certain responses can also be used to "sell yourself," which at times can be extremely beneficial and useful.
In response to a question don't leave it up to the questioner to "fish" for information in order to get it or miss the opportunity to share unique details that might make you stand out from other employees or individuals.
Demonstrate Your Level of Knowledge
Within responses, bring in points that support your level of knowledge about what is going on within the organization, department and workplace. Take the opportunity during responses to share what you have gained, your knowledge of the industry, and especially your interest in the company. Express your interest verbally through the words you choose as well as in your actions throughout the question and answer process. If you don't find opportunities to work in certain points of knowledge and interest during the ongoing question and answer process, address it at the end when you are given the opportunity to say something, (which is usually when you are asked if you have any more questions).
When responding to a question, make sure not to let your nervousness and response performance override your interest and enthusiasm during the questioning process or miss opportunities to share your understandings and viewpoints.
Respond Positively to Questions
It is important to frame your responses positively. This can be challenging when asked a question that you do not have an answer for, or when asked about experiences that you don't yet have. A person can prepare him or herself in advance by anticipating these types of questions, and learning techniques to respond positively.
Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD