Following on from the previous post The value of effective questions, let’s now look at strategies for responding to questions. Questions and answers are like two partners dancing – it works if they are in sync with their push and pull interactions. This post focuses on ways to respond to questions effectively.
Making the most of conversations
Conversations are made up of questions and answers. They are the tools that facilitate rapport building between participants. How you pose questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information. Likewise, how we respond to those questions can have the same impact.
When answering questions we are faced with a choice about how much information we share or disclose. On one end of the spectrum answers can be transparent – sharing a lot of information. At the other extreme, answers may be protected – sharing limited information, withholding in the name of privacy. Each serves a purpose and has their own strategies.
- Sharing information
“Transparency is a powerful bonding agent”
(Brooks & John, 2018, p.67)
The disclosure of information helps draw participants in a conversation, closer together. Sharing information often means finding common ground. The willingness to share experiences reflects trust and is the foundation for developing rapport.
- Maintaining privacy
Sometimes in conversations, people choose to limit the amount of information they share. This does not usually mean that they remain silent. Instead they may avoid answering questions directly or answer a similar or different question that they may prefer to have been asked. An articulate and persuasive speaker may be able to do this while maintaining rapport.
To get the most out of conversations, there are a number of tactics that can be used. The tactics you use vary according to whether your conversation is to be a competitive or cooperative one.
Competitive conversation tactics
- Think in advance about the information you want to keep private so that you don’t answer questions impulsively and regret this late.
- Dodge an issue or answering an unwanted question by answering a similar question that you wish you had been asked.
- Deflect questions and gain control of the conversation by posing questions in response to questions put to you.
- Consider when to share negative information rather than refusing to answer a question, as a method of building trust.
Cooperative conversation tactics
- Avoid droning on in conversation – maintain interest and engagement with energy, humour and storytelling.
- Avoid talking too much about yourself – remember to draw the other person into the conversation by asking questions of them.
- Deflect tough questions by answering with another question or a joke.
Effective conversations – competitive or cooperative – rely on the interplay of thoughtful questions and answers. If they result in effective interactions, they strengthen rapport and trust. Whether these are work-related or personal, they are avenues for discovery and sharing of ideas and experiences.
The success of these interchanges lies in building relationships between people. In a work context that may mean sharing ideas that produce innovative solutions made better because of the synergy of combined ideas. For personal exchanges, developing connections and rapport are the hallmarks of success.
Successful conversations are underwritten by curiosity – a voluntary interest in finding out more about the topic of discussion. Whether work-related or personal, competitive or cooperative effective curiosity fuels engagement and motivation to achieve a suitable outcome.
Brooks, Alison Wood, & John, Leslie K. 2018. The surprising power of questions in Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018 (pp. 60-67).