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  • How to Answer Questions Better Than Others

    Answer photos from ShutterstockBe as willing to respond to questions as you are willing to ask them. If you hesitate to answer, people think you aren’t cooperative, don’t know the answer, don’t know what you’re doing, or that you lack confidence. You might even be viewed as acting arrogant and superior in your nonresponse.

    Choose your words and tone carefully to hit the right degree of clarity. Listen to what the question is. Keep a “pass the salt” tone of voice with no hidden agenda emotion. Maintain a relaxed facial expression.

    Attentively lean forward to answer the questions simply, concisely, truthfully, and targeted to the audience. Follow the USA Today’s slogan: “Not the most words, just the right ones.” Keep the answers organized. Use complete sentences. End sentences. Provide one thought at a time.

    Practice important or complicated answers when you’re not on the hot seat so that the answers come to you more readily when you are. Think about what you should, could, or want to answer to a question. Rehearse it in your head, and depending on the importance, rehearse it on your smart phone then play it back to hear how you sound. Listen and think how it will sound to others and how they’ll likely react. Change your wording if necessary to get the reaction you want.

    Try out different words to test the different effects. Follow the instructions given to airline pilots who are taught to select words that minimize travelers’ anxiety. The phrasing “The new departure or arrival time is…,” is better than the word “late.” The word “gate” is preferable to “terminal.” And “destination” sure beats “final destination.”

    Choose descriptive words since they have their own body language: For example, “We get a lot of referrals” is bland compared to, “We get a beautiful number of referrals.” “We work well together,” is less convincing than “We work in harmony.”

    If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t and then go find it out. Don’t fake or try to fool with the hope that “if you throw things against the wall some will stick.” Don’t attempt to show how much you know when in truth you’re disorganized and nervous and don’t know. “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” works.

    “Yes” and “no” are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question. They avoid the groan, “How short the question; how long the answer.”

    “That’s something I choose not to answer,” can be your response if they are just being nosy. You don’t have to answer every question (just as they don’t have to answer yours), but it does tend to stop the conversation flow.

    “I’m just going to skip that question” is an answer that works sometimes. It’s more straightforward than what politicians are taught in the art of “nonanswer.” As former White House insider George Stephanopoulos explains it, “The fundamental rule is to shoehorn what you want to say into the answer no matter what the question is.”

    If you keep getting the same questions, you’re not answering well. Answer, and then ask, “Is that what you were asking?” or “Does that answer the question?” to make sure you did. Keep it a conversation, not an interview. Pay attention to micro-questions the person is asking. Pay attention to people’s answers to your questions. You need to hear and know their interests and priorities to determine the answers you need to give and questions you need to continue to ask.

    Return to questions that were unanswered by you because they got skipped over with “Something I may not have explained well….” It shows you listen, remember, and take responsibility to answer as asked.

    D.A. (Debra) Benton has been helping great individuals and organizations get even better for over 20 years. Just as exceptional athletes rely on excellent coaching to hone their skills, Debra's clients rely on her advice to advance their careers. She focuses on what is truly important to convert what you and your organization want to be from a vision into a reality. TopCEOCoaches.com ranks her in the World's Top 10 CEO Coaches noting she is the top female. And as conference keynote speaker she is routinely rated in the top 2%. Her client list reads like a “Who's Who” of executives in companies ranging from Microsoft, McDonald's, Kraft, American Express, Merrill Lynch, United Airlines, and PricewaterhouseCoopers to the Washington Beltway and U.S.Border Patrol. *She is the author of ten award-winning and best-selling business books including The Virtual Executive and CEO Material. She has written for the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company. She has been featured in USA Today, Fortune, The New York Times, and Time; she has appeared on Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and CBS with Diane Sawyer. To learn more Debra advising leaders, coaching, facilitating a workshop, or speaking: www.debrabenton.com

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