Have you ever been giving a presentation in a meeting and froze up when Management asked you a penetrating question (or maybe a question you really didn’t understand)? It happens to everyone. But, people who master how to answer questions effectively tend to be the first in the queue for promotion consideration. In general, Management is looking for an answer that demonstrates you are capable of separating the wheat from the chaff so they don’t have to. Net, an answer that is sensitive to their needs and way of processing information.
The bad news is most people are not born inherently knowing how to answer a question in a business setting. The worst news is the training received in academia on answering questions tends to be the opposite of what good looks like in business. In academia Professors reward you for demonstrating the depth of your knowledge and explaining your logic stream. In business, Management no partial credit is given, you are expected to get to the point and your knowledge of a subject is assumed unless you demonstrate otherwise.
The good news is you can learn how to better answer questions from Management by following these 7 tips.
Seven Tips For Answering Management Questions
- Think before speaking. It is okay to restate a question to ensure you understand it. I can remember getting questions from senior managers who, by virtue of the question, demonstrated they didn’t have enough information to truly understand the situation. It is generally bad form to embarrass a manager in a meeting. I have seen careers terminated from embarrassing senior managers publicly. It destroys trust. Stop, think, assume the question is asked in earnest, then formulate a respectful response.
- Answer the question that has been asked. Don’t expand a question just to demonstrate you know more about a subject than the person asking the question. It is annoying. One trick is to restate the question before answering it. Restating ensures you heard the question correctly and allows you time to think through an appropriate answer.
- Start your response with yes, no, or I don’t know. You are not expected to know the answer to every question. But, faking an answer is a sure way to destroying your credibility. If you don’t know say so and offer to a) find the answer and b) loop back with the questioner after the meeting.
- Answer the question as fully as possible. I used to say – I don’t know the answer to that specific question, but here is what I do know that will have bearing on the answer …
- Make the answer concise. Remember, you don’t get partial credit for a lengthy explanation. In fact, you may be penalized for wasting Management’s time.
- Separate facts from opinions and be clear. Always start with sharing facts as they carry more weight. If you want to offer an opinion, start by saying – Based on these facts, my opinion is … If you opt to share the opinions of experts, always disclose the source so managers can weigh the credibility of the opinion in their own mind.
- Never answer a question with a question. This practice is highly annoying and comes off elitist. It is never appreciated.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is hard to break the habits formed in your academic training. But, with practice you can certainly do so. Don’t underestimate the power of answering questions properly. Throughout your career you will struggle for face time with senior managers who can influence your career. In meetings and one-on-one interactions you will be judged on your advancement potential (or worse you will be forgotten). Answering questions properly helps build your personal brand equity as a competent player with growth potential. It helps build trust. You get precious few opportunities to establish credibility in the eyes of senior managers, make it a personal priority to master the skill of answering Management questions.