Most folks respond to questions from an executive or folks who’ve got a higher ratio of impactful things to do/time than we do in the course of their work week. Handling Q&A, verbal or written, is a skill and I’ve become mindful of the following progression as I work on my own abilities to do so. Each stage builds on the other.
(1) Padawan learner: We are prompt. We answer questions promptly but tend to bury the answer in a blur of detail in our attempts to be complete.
(2) Jedi Knight: We deliver clarity over completeness. We answer the question first and provide just the amount of extra detail required for clarity.
(3) Jedi Master: We anticipate follow up questions. By putting ourselves in the shoes of the asker, our extra detail minimizes follow up questions and back-and-forth.
(4) Jedi Council: We see and answer the question behind the question. Awareness is the gift of competence and, at this level, we go beyond the question to the interests of the asker and, thus, to the question behind the question.
(5) Grandmaster: We become the one asking the questions. :-)
While this post has been focused on responding to executives/folks busier than us, I’ve come to appreciate the value this skill adds in life. Learning to listen for the interests of the asker, answer the question behind the question, and do so with clarity over completeness are very useful skills – both at work and at home.