As leaders of businesses, governmental agencies and associations, we encounter questions from those we lead through a variety of media – public speaking forums, face-to-face conversations, email, blog posts and even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In many cases, how we answer a question says more about us and our ability to lead than our answers do.
Consider this example. A friend of mine, Carol, recently posed a simple and thoughtful question to a speaker. In response, the speaker smiled and said, “Carol, I’m glad you asked that. Let me answer by saying….” Before he even offered an answer to the question, the speaker framed his response in a way that made Carol feel like the most important person in the room. What effect do you think this had on Carol’s perception of the speaker as a leader?
As an alternative, what do you suppose Carol’s reaction would have been to a response that sounded something like this: “I’m not sure I understand your question. Let’s take that off line.” Or to a response similar to this: “I’ve already answered that question. Would you like for me to answer it again?” In both of these instances, the speaker appears as if he is belittling Carol for asking the question – in the first response, by suggesting she didn’t ask her question clearly, and in the second, by making it sound as if she’s asking a question she should know the answer to. What effect do you think either of these responses might have on Carol’s perception of him as a leader? Thought leader? Prospective team mate? And so forth…
Here at The Chief Storyteller®, one of our top 50 communication mantras for 2012 is to “Treat everyone like a CEO.” Answering questions in a way that makes people feel important is one good way to do that.