4 reasons why you should just answer the question

Before I ask someone a question which requires a yes-or-no answer, I feel like adding a disclaimer: “I don’t want a 10-minute diatribe or even an extended answer. I simply want a ‘yes or no’.”

I’ll take it from there. This is particularly true when I’m leading a workshop that has a two-hour limit.

For some reason unbeknownst to me some people feel the need to pontificate until I give them the “enough” signal, which is as obvious as I can be. In other words, I hold up my right hand to gesture, “Stop!” This seems to get people’s attention; although, it leaves me with the feeling that I’ve been rude.

If you’re reading this and get the sense that I’m far too rigid leading workshops, keep in mind that if I don’t require people to just answer the questions, I probably won’t cover all the topics.

There are times when elaboration is required, such as when you’re asked an open-ended question at an interview. “Why do you feel that customer service is your greatest strength?” requires an answer that is longer than five seconds. It’s a question that gives you the “go” sign. And when your answer is complete, simply conclude with, “This is why customer service is my strongest skill.”

The ability to communicate verbally is essential in our work and job search, arguably more important than our ability to write; and knowing when to put the brakes on talking plays an important part in communicating. Here are four reasons why just answering the question is required.

1. Time is valuable. I’ve been told I’m always in a hurry to get nowhere, and sometimes I feel that way. But when I’m rushing to get to a workshop or a meeting, I don’t have time to waste listening to an elaborate response to a very simple question.

“How’s it going?” is perhaps an overused question. It really means, in a sense, “Hi there.” Some people take it literally and feel the need to tell me how it’s really going. My mistake. If I were to say, “Tell me how your day is going, and don’t leave out any details,” I would completely understand an elaborate answer.

2. It’s inconsiderate to dominate airtime. In my workshops I’ll ask yes-or-no questions, and I expect yes-or-no answers. Of course I ask open-ended questions, to which I expect some detail—not too much detail, mind you, as there is an agenda.  This is not the time for someone to dominate airtime simply to show off his/her knowledge.

How I’ve handled this dilemma when I see it coming on is by quickly interrupting the person by saying, “Yes or no?” If the person persists I again ask, “Yes or no?” It’s important to know that in the job search, interviewers don’t appreciate people who talk too much. It may make the difference between getting the job or not.

3. I really don’t care. Harsh, I know, but that’s how I feel some times. “In two sentences can you explain what value you’ll offer the company?” Because you’ll make our customers happy and increase return business. That’s one sentence. Because you’ll write code that will require minimal quality assurance and therefore your product will ship sooner than expected. That’s it. On to the next question.

But, “And I’ll work extended hours,” you continue. No (stop signal). Cut. I don’t care to hear more, and besides you don’t follow directions. One more minute added to the interview. One more minute added to the workshop. Can’t you see the person in the back row rolling her eyes? Don’t lawyers on TV say, “Just answer the question?” This is why I don’t care.

4. When a longer answer is required. A time such as this is usually when I’m asking my kids about their day. And, sadly, their answers are too brief. “It was fine,” they say. Fine as in nothing unusual happened? Fine as in Josh didn’t break up with you? “Just fine. Okay?”

This is similar to answering an interview question about your greatest strength with, “My greatest strength is developing teams….” Care to elaborate? This is where the interviewer needs more. Tell me how you’ve built teams. “Well, where I last worked I built teams.” And what were the situations? What were your actions? What were the results?

There are other times when elaboration is necessary, such as when you’re having a conversation with someone. Recently we took our daughter’s boyfriend and her out for dinner after we watched him compete in a swim meet. He proved to be a very good conversationalist.

When I asked him open-ended questions he responded to them with detailed answers, and he seemed relaxed and confident. Had he simply said, “Yes” to my questions, “Are the pools you race in always so sweltering in the stand section,” I would have been concerned about my daughter’s choice in men.


1 thought on “4 reasons why you should just answer the question

  1. JJ

    Absolutely, wrong answers at the wrong time can destroy a prospect. Sometimes lack of clarity or failure to respond in the way it should be. All these things contribute. Some good advises for job seekers.



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