Category Archives: IM

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!


Japanese Perfection and Why You Need to be Specific in Your Requests

I’m reading a book called “Reframing Organizations” by Lee Bolman & Terrence Deal (Jossey-Bass, 2008) for an Organizational Behavior course I’m taking and I came across a hilarious section which refers to an encounter between two companies in the 1970s or 1980s. The first is an American company which needed ball bearings and the second is a Japanese plant that made them.

Here’s what apparently happened:

Although the book’s main point was more about the difference in company standards between both countries, I couldn’t help but map this back to miscommunication in virtual teams.

This nearly always happens. One party sends a request without being descriptive enough, and the other party acts on it without following up.

Here are a couple of lessons learned for both companies that we can all learn from:

American Company: Be explicit with your orders. Elaborating on the request by saying something like “We’d like all those ball bearings to be perfectly shaped, but we’ll be ok if you send us up to 20 defective ones” might have reduced the time to make them.

Japanese Plant: If you’re not too sure about the order, ask before you start working on it. You wasted time making an additional 20 defective ball bearings! Oh, and ease up on the perfectionism, will you?

8 Interpretations of Silence when using Instant Messaging

I use Instant Messaging (IM) a lot in my job to manage my team and connect with friends. I love it because I have the unparalleled advantage of multi-tasking different conversations with so many people at once. Of course, it does have a few drawbacks, but overall, I still think it’s a valuable tool in the arsenal of online communication – particularly for couch managers.

However, there is one pet peeve that most individuals share when using online chat: Silence

I’m not referring to the natural pauses that occur during a normal back & forth online conversation, but rather to the (sometimes intentional) disappearing act that people choose to do after reading an IM message.

Here’s a typical online chat session:

Person A: Hey!
Person B: Hey, what’s up?
Person A: Nothing much, things are going great so far
<Some more small talk>
Person A: Quick question. Regarding the budget report and status update we discussed last week, I wanted to follow up on where we stand with that. Do you have something you’d like to share before our meeting this afternoon? I don’t feel I have all the info I need before discussing them with the client.
Person B: *Silence* (for quite a while)
Person A: Still there??
Person B: *More Silence*

Here are 8 interpretations that go on inside Person A’s mind:

So basically, Person A starts making assumptions and acting upon those assumptions, and that almost always leads to miscommunication issues.

Here are 3 lessons learned for Person B to save everyone time and frustration:

  1. If you’ve read the message, for the love of God, type out what you’re thinking. Even if you’re hesitant to answer, a simple “Let me think about it,”  or “I’ll get back to you” would be much more appreciated compared to the agonizing feeling of wondering whether you read the message or not.
  2. If you haven’t read the message, then type a quick “brb” before stepping out or set your status to automatically update to “Busy” or “Away.”
  3. If you got disconnected while in the middle of a chat conversation, a courteous follow up with a call or email to let Person A know you might have missed a message would help a lot. Surprisingly, with all the technology we have to date, a lot of those IM clients don’t always update your online/ offline status in real time, so one can’t always tell if you dropped off before you got the last message.