Author: Donna-Marie Rowe
I read recently that leaders should not take questions personally. It gave me enough reason to pause. This global crisis has turned the spotlight on how world leaders provide answers to the media in live press conferences, interviews and digital town halls. I have also witnessed how questions have the capacity to throw off an otherwise smooth conversation at work, church, training sessions and home.
Years ago, a staff meeting gave me a valuable lesson in questions and answers. It was one of those ‘tests’ where you are forced to reflect on your thought process which resulted in a ‘grade’ which your parents would say “could have been better” if you had just paused to think it through.
Thankfully, I have a team that I rely on to hold me accountable and they did not disappoint. Since then I am happy to report that I have gotten much better ‘grades’.
As world leaders, CEOs, Department Heads, etc, one must get used to the question and answer segment. As trainers, church leaders and even parents your responses to questions whether in writing or verbally, must be handled adeptly. There is the temptation to get either defensive or dismissive as we see happening on the world stage. But no, as a leader of excellence, you will be guided by the principles of respect, honesty, integrity, humility and self-management.
Here are some reminders:
- The person posing the question is not always asking on behalf of himself/herself, so don’t create stories in your head about the questioner and “don’t shoot the messenger.”
- Assess the spirit behind the question. Is this question driven by fear, ignorance or genuine concern? Asking yourself this question will help you to better craft your answer, always mindful to do so with respect and empathy.
- If you suspect there is an ulterior motive behind the question, ensure that you are above reproach in the professional, objective, and temperate response. This applies in all relationships. Substitute ‘professional’ for dignified if you think it does not fit. Ensure that you can be comfortable with yourself when that conversation with your child, spouse, best friend or church member comes to an end.
- Your body language including facial expressions speak louder than words. People tend to assess these responses harsher. Be careful not to build up stories in your head to the point where you respond with annoyance, bitterness, suspicion, anger or hostility.
- Ask a follow up question before answering in order to clarify your thoughts and that of the questioner or give your interpretation of the question to ensure you are on the right track with the answer to come.
- If you are responding by email, ensure your tone is appropriate and spend the time to choose your words wisely. Spend a moment in their shoes – as the recipient of the answer.
- Interviews or other Q & A sessions are opportunities to get your side of the story told. Embrace them.
As leaders of excellence, be sure to shine these leadership lights on your next question and answer journey.
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