Be careful how you answer questions from customers or coworkers. An answer that seems fine to you may be offensive to the other person.
Use these tips to answer questions more effectively and to reduce the chances of misunderstandings or hurt feelings:
- Avoid using “Of course” as a synonym for “Yes.” Answers that are obvious to you may be less obvious to the other person. For that reason, the questioner may interpret the answer “Of course” as an insult. Example: A coworker asks whether she should obtain a manager’s approval before ordering office supplies. You answer “Of course.” She may interpret your answer as hostile or dismissive.
- Offer more than a one-word answer. When answering a question, elaborate or explain the general principle as well. Example: “When ordering supplies for the office, we need a manager’s approval for orders that exceed $100.” By answering more thoroughly, you can lighten your workload. People will ask you fewer repetitive questions.
— Adapted from “How to Answer Questions,” Calvin Sun, http://www.calvinsun.com.
During a problem-solving session, a coworker offers a suggestion that seems neither realistic nor particularly useful. Take these steps to respond:
- Validate the suggestion by paraphrasing it back to your coworker. “So you are suggesting that we fly everyone to Vegas for a strategy session. Is that correct?”
- State your concern. “One issue I see with that plan is that taking the whole group on a business trip right now will increase expenses at a time when we can least afford it.” State your concern decisively but without derision. Others in the group may either validate your concern or show you how it could be overcome.
- Return to the problem-solving process. Specify a time frame for continuing the discussion, and set aside time to reflect on the progress the group is making. “Let’s continue bouncing new ideas around for another 15 minutes. Then let’s stop to see if we’ve come up with any ideas that are worth pursuing.” Make sure the group agrees to your plan before you proceed.
— Adapted from “Overcoming Resistance: The Role of the Meeting Facilitator,” Michael Goldman.
Your boss is encouraging you to offer honest feedback and share your opinions. You hesitate to do so, because the boss sometimes doesn’t react well to being challenged.
Use these strategies to tell your boss what you need to say—without being too pushy.
- “May I play devil’s advocate?” When you open with that request, you position and cushion your comments. When you play a “role”—as devil’s advocate—the boss won’t react to your feedback personally.
- “If you decide to go that route, my concern is …” Offer a helpful warning that is designed to protect the boss from making a bad decision. That shows you are thinking ahead and considering consequences. Note: Deliver that line in a thinking-out-loud tone. That prevents your comments from sounding arrogant.
- “I understand why you would think that way—because of X,Y and Z. But what about this alternative?” Your boss will be much more willing to listen to your idea after you acknowledge the validity of the favored course of action. That makes you seem more like partners brainstorming, rather than a subordinate criticizing the boss.
— Adapted from “How to Coach and Give Feedback” by Joan Lloyd.
You ask a coworker about the status of a project, and he starts talking about how his dog kept him up all night. Pulling a simple answer from someone who rambles on and on with seemingly no interest in making a point can test your patience.
Here’s how to help ramblers focus:
- Repeat your question. If the rambler veers off topic, cut in at the first opportunity and repeat what you asked, without sighing or fidgeting.
- Frame your answer. When you pose a question, offer two or three alternatives that reveal the type of answer you seek. Example: “Did you determine why that account expired. Was it because of a miscommunication, poor service or some other cause?”
- Explain why you need a quick, succinct answer. Example: “I’m asking you this because I have only 20 minutes to prepare for the meeting and I need those facts.”
- Ask for “the short version.” Genially request a “30-second overview” rather than a full analysis. Specify exactly what you need to know. Example: “Let’s have your bottom-line assessment of the top three downsides of pursuing this strategy.”
If a customer or coworker asks you a question about a controversial subject, don’t offer your opinion. Instead say “I don’t have an opinion about that.” Then change the subject to something more work appropriate.
Without clear guidance, employees can embarrass your organization, break the law or leak confidential information through an email. Train new employees on these guidelines:
- How formal their writing should be. You may have separate guidelines for internal messages and those going to customers, vendors or other outsiders. Offer examples of acceptable salutations and sign-offs.
- Which words to use. Explain which words to include when communicating about certain aspects of your business and which words they should never type.
- How to handle confidential information. Provide examples of what should never be included in a message.
Remind all employees about your organizations’ email policies and the consequences for breaking those rules.
— Adapted from “Email Gaffes: Four Ways to Stop Messages Coming Back to Haunt You,” Monica Seeley, TechRepublic, www.techrepublic.com.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liewcf.
When writing email, avoid using casual expressions that threaten to undermine your professionalism. Examples:
- Replace “Will you guys help me out?” with “Will you help me?”
- Rather than say “The folks from marketing are here,” say “The people from marketing are here.”
- Expressions such as “Oh man” come across as juvenile.
- Substitute informal salutations, such as “Hey” and “Yo” with “Hi” and “Hello.”
- Use exclamation points sparingly to avoid appearing too emotional and immature. Never use more than one exclamation point at the end of a sentence.
— Adapted from “Three Tips for Writing E-mail in Today’s Casual Workplace,” Barbara Pachter, Pachter’s Pointers, http://www.bar-barapachtersblog.com.