ANSWER QUESTIONS LIKE A PROBy Dorothy Leeds
In my work as a sales trainer, I am constantly striving to help reps ask more and better questions. In fact, as the author of The 7 Powers of Questions and Smart Questions, I am known as the Questioning Crusader. But you can’t just ask questions in a vacuum. You have to be prepared to answer questions as well – whether you are in a one-on-one conversation or speaking to a group of people.
The manner in which you accept and answer questions is even more important than what you actually say. Sometimes, answering a question involves asking another question. If you’re not quite sure what the other person is asking, get clarification. Ask, “Can you clarify for me in more detail?” or “If I understand you correctly, you’re asking….” Never launch into an explanation without fully clarifying the question or being absolutely certain that you understand the question thoroughly. It's all too easy to think you understand what someone else is thinking. For example, if someone asks, "What about the problems I hear you’re having with the FDA?" a smart communicator would clarify first by asking, "Could you share with me what it is you’ve heard and why you’re asking?" The information you get by probing further should allow you to not only get a better understanding, but to answer more effectively.
We are so used to being asked vague questions, we tend to answer them too quickly. Just as people try to count to ten before losing their temper, the smart speaker will count to three while asking him or herself whether the question needs to be clarified.
Once it’s been clarified, and you’ve answered, confirm that you’ve met the questioner’s needs (especially in a doctor’s office when time is precious) by saying, “Does that answer your question?” If the doctor says no, or hesitates before answering, you might say, “It seems there may be something I left out. Was there something else you wanted to know?”
Coping with commonly asked problem-causing questionsUpon occasion, you may find that you’ve been asked a question that puts you in a sticky situation. Here are some of these types of questions, and ways you can answer them quickly and professionally:
Here are some pointers to keep in mind when answering questions:
Answering questions in a group situation (whether you’re in an office with three or four doctors or in front of a large audience) creates different challenges. It’s easier for you to lose control of the situation. In a question-and-answer session, you've got three interdependent objectives to keep in mind at all times. The objectives are hard to separate from each other, and you will stay in control of the question-and-answer session only if you keep all three in mind.
If at all possible, you want to know why a person is asking the question he or she is asking. Since you can't always decipher the motive underlying a question, you can’t take each question at face value. Not all questions are sincere requests for information. Often people want to express their opinion, to show you up, and to demonstrate their wisdom and great intelligence. Your analysis of a question should focus on three things:
1. The content of the question
2. The intent of the question
3. The person asking the question
When you analyze the intent and the person behind the question, remember that even though this is not the right place for it, argumentative people may use the Q&A as a platform to express their views. They might also be looking for recognition. Give it to them, but don't let them take over. You may lose a few points, but telling them that their question really requires more time and asking, "Can we get together after the meeting?" may be the best way to deal with these people. You can cut off long-winded people, but you have to do it politely and tactfully. And if you get a real troublemaker who causes a disturbance, chances are your audience will express disapproval and ask him or her to sit down.The fine points of mastering THE Q&A
The fine points for answering questions one-on-one apply to group situations as well. But speakers who handle question-and-answer sessions well have mastered these fine points, too:
If possible, don’t end on someone else’s question. Have a second, mini-conclusion to your presentation prepared, and present it at the end of the question-and-answer session (this applies to a one-on-one situation as well). Only end with someone else’s question if it allows you to support your position. And even if that's the (rare) case, I still like to end the session myself. After all the time and effort you put into preparing your presentation, why end on someone else's note?
If you do end your talk with the question-and-answer session, do so before all the questions dwindle away. Never keep going until some people are putting on their coats and shuffling up the aisles while one or two last questioners are lingering behind. "Has she finished yet?" one suffering listener asked another as she was departing the auditorium. "Yes," was the answer, "she finished long ago, but she just won't stop." Stay in control. End the session yourself by saying, "That's all we have time for today; I want to thank you all for your contributions." Then deliver your conclusion with warmth and confidence.
If you prepare for questions, take them in stride, treat your audience courteously, and stay in control, the question-and-answer session – whether in a group or one-on-one - changes from a time of dread to an enjoyable opportunity. Make it work for you. Remember, you're not just talking to people, you're engaging them. Enjoy it, and your doctors will remember you for it.
Copyright © 2006 Dorothy Leeds Organizational Technologies