Monthly Archives: April 2011

The 3 Types of Responses to Questions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Nearly every single response to every single question I’ve ever asked someone in a meeting, phone call or email can be classified under one of three categories: one’s good, the other’s bad, and the third’s ugly. The good is when someone answers the question first, and then gives additional information afterwards. The bad is when they do it the other way around. The ugly is when they never answer the question.

Here’s a visual to explain the difference.


Here’s an explanation of why you need to always go with the good.

THE UGLY: If you’re a CEO or a politician answering the media, then I understand why you need to go with the ugly. Otherwise, for the love of God, answer the question.

THE BAD: While this is much better than the ugly, the frustrating thing about the bad is that makes the listener work hard to figure out what the answer is. Even if you get to the answer at the end, the fact that you’ve started out your discussion with your grandfather’s history, and then talked about your mom’s meatloaf recipe,  leads to ambiguity and uncertainty on the listener’s side – particularly in a virtual setting. As a manager in a company or a business owner, that could be detrimental to a team.

THE GOOD: In most situations, starting out with a direct and straightforward answer is the best way to go. The most effective type of answer is one which summarizes the point succinctly first, and then gives any other supporting or background information afterwards. Technically, there are only four types of responses to a question, so to save everyone time and frustration, make sure you start your answer with one of the following options:

  1. The Answer ( “Cindy Mitchell is the person you need to talk to…”)
  2. Yes ( “Yes, I do need that report tomorrow…”)
  3. No ( “No, I did not understand what you just said…”)
  4. Maybe/ I don’t know/ I’m not sure (“I don’t know who is responsible for that task…”)

As a side tip, if you have to answer with #4, it’s always a good idea to continue your sentence with “…but what I do know is…” For example, if someone asks about the fastest directions to get to downtown Boston from Brookline, a good answer would be: “I’m not sure what the fastest way is, but what I do know is that if you catch a bus to the Cleveland Circle Station, you’ll be there in 45 minutes.

Know of any other frustrating responses to questions? Let me know in the comments section below!

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