Friday, March 30, 2012

Answering Questions Effectively: When Replying to a “Why Question,” Start With a Direct Answer and Only Then Elaborate, If You Must

Earlier this week, while presenting a workshop on how to speak concisely and emphasize your point in just three sentences at the Southwest Regional Conference of FEW (“Federally Employed Women”) held at Houston’s Hyatt Regency, one of my key points was the following: When responding to a “why question” (such as “why is such-and-such thing important” or “why is such-and-such development affecting the price of milk in grocery stores”), it’s always a good idea to first give a direct answer--preferably by way of a relatively short sentence--and only then elaborate, if necessary, rather than the vice versa. An immediate direct response helps provide the listener with an instant milestone as to where you are heading, thus making the overall reply easier to digest and more compelling.

An illustration of the wrong way to answer a “why question”: the video clip below, from a recent PBS interview with actor and activist George Clooney, shows how cumbersome it can become for the listener when the person answering a “why question” first launches into the elaboration phase and only then gives the direct answer to the question. In this case, when PBS’s Judy Woodruff asks Clooney whether the resolution of problems in remote South Sudan will really affect the price of gas here in the U.S., he first gives a mini-101 on the various factors affecting gas prices--buttressing it with statements from President Obama and Senator Lugar--and only then answers affirmatively “there is no question …that it does raise the price.”

Clooney’s response would have been far more elegant and streamlined, and therefore easier to digest, had he first said something like “Judy, there is no question that the goings-on in South Sudan are affecting gas prices here” and then gone into the geopolitical aspects.
© Copyright 2012 V. J. Singal

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