When I write some of these posts, Mom’s words come to mind and I can hear these words spoken in her voice. This is another one of those times. Some people are direct in their speaking style and in general, in their approach to life. In contrast, other people, as Mom used to say “beat around the bush.” I am the former type of person. When I am asked a question, I diligently attempt to answer it to the best of my ability. I use as few words as possible, sometimes answering either “Yes” or “No” when a one word answer is sufficient. For example, if someone asks me, “Melissa, are you available tomorrow at 4:00 for a telephone conference?”, my answer will be “Yes” or “No.” It’s pretty simple, at least to me. Other people have an indirect approach to conducting their lives. Using the example, above, these people might answer “Well, I thought we already discussed everything,” or “I will have to wait and see if anything comes up,” or any one of a number of other responses that do not come close to answering the question. When asked the time, one can either answer, “It’s 2:00″ or one can describe the various attributes of analog and digital clock, whether or not they like Rolex watches, and if Switzerland is known more for watches or chocolate candy. I recognize that some questions are complex and require careful and insightful deliberation prior to answering, but, at least in my experience, these questions are uncommon. Other questions are intended to provoke a debate that may or may not have a resolution. For example, my dear friend Bob (my Bob, not all the other people named Bob) and I have had a long running debate over whether “Stairway to Heaven” or “Freebird” is the better song. Certainly, there is no simple answer to this type of question, as the answer is a matter of personal opinion. The next time someone asks you what you would like for dinner, chicken or fish, stop for a moment before you answer. Are you likely to provide a one word answer or follow up with a myriad of questions and comments, such as “What kind of fish?”; “Is the chicken grain fed?”; and my all time least favorite response, “What are you having?”.
I chuckled when I saw the title of this post, and not in a good way. I was recently frustrated by a recently terminated employee’s inability to give a straight answer. I will admit there are times when a “yes” or “no” is inadequate and a more detailed explanation is warranted. However, in the midst of a research day, when asked a question about whether some task was done, a simple “yes” or “no” is what is required. Once I know yes, or no, I can do what I need to do accordingly. Or, I can direct someone else to do so. In my recent experience, I got indirect answers requiring follow up questions by me. I got deflections to “I was doing this,” requiring me to ask “Does that mean you didn’t do that?” What should have been a 5 second interchange took 30 to 45 long seconds, which under the pressures of time, is a long time! In that instance, I ascribe the indirect answers to “hiding” the truth to avoid personal criticism for failing to do an assigned task. But, the time for such criticism is later, when the pressure is off. In this case, the indirect answer was to a task related question. Failing to complete the task was keeping someone else on the project team from doing her job. Supervising someone who seems incapable of providing direct answers creates frustrations that would, perhaps, not occur even if the task was complete or the answer not as desired. It is not difficult to see how some supervisors/managers would “erupt” with an angry response to an employee in that situation. But, and, especially with clients present, doing so creates more problems than it solves. Our goal is to “not let them see us sweat.” The greater the “back and forth” in trying to get to an answer, the greater the likelihood that the sweat will show (especially if it is communications over a walkie-talkie!). It is much better to get to the point, deal with it, and keep on with the tasks at hand.