Speed Kills in Q&A

One of the most important qualities for success in business is the very quality that impedes the effective handling of tough questions: rapid response time. Any business man or woman is expected to react quickly to problems, and to come up with prompt solutions. However, in responding to tough questions, speed can kill.

Tough questions are a part of the terrain in business and, given today's tough economy, the terrain is rougher than ever. In every facet of life, people are in search of answers to their problems, and so their questions are loaded with emotion. If a responder answers too rapidly and with equal emotion, be it defensive or contentious, the battle is joined and the exchange heads rapidly downhill--a lose-lose engagement.

In preparing for tough questions, a results-driven mindset often involves an approach know as "Rude Q&A," in which a list of anticipated challenging questions is drawn up and then matched with list of appropriate answers. There is a small flaw in this approach: people don't ask questions as written; they usually ask them in a long rambling or convoluted manner. This causes the responder to scramble for the right answer at best, or the wrong answer, at worst.

The solution is to slam on the brakes and NOT think of the answer while the question is being asked, instead to listen carefully to the question.

What a concept: listen! Listening has become a lost practice in our culture. For those people who still retain a semblance of politeness, it has become waiting for one's turn to speak; for those who no longer bother, it has become not to listen at all, but to talk past the next person.

Listening will feel counterintuitive to the results-driven businessperson and be difficult to do, but is absolutely vital. Failure to observe this simple rule can result in failure of the answer, of the presentation, of the meeting, or of the entire business proposition.